Posted in Culture/History, General Interest, Guest Writer, Imen Benyoub, Music, Peace & Justice

Music, Language of the Soul

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“Music is…a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”
Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Sarajevo under siege…a city in ruins that wakes up on the sound of shelling and bombing and sleeps on that of mourners. This beautiful city, so rich in history, architecture and art suffered the horrors of a four years siege considered the longest in modern history, and became Europe’s capital of hell since the war broke in 1992, to coincide with another atrocious civil war that broke in my own country and lasted almost ten years, what we Algerians know as “the dark decade”.

At 4 pm on May 27, people were queuing in front of a bakery in Sarajevo for bread; a mortar shell dropped in the middle and killed 22 people instantly. A man witnessed the massacre and was so appalled by the sight of blood and torn bodies so he decided to do something.

This man was Vedran Smailović, a widely recognized and talented cellist who went everyday for 22 days to the bombed site the exact time of the massacre and played cello, in honour of those who died in front of him and all of the victims, all those hiding from snipers’ bullets, the refugees, the hungry, the wounded, the destroyed homes and for his smouldering, exhausted city that struggled to survive.

This man sent a prayer of peace through his music, that the city of his heart might witness a brighter future, and he became the symbol of peace all over Bosnia, playing in graveyards and bombed sites, despite the shelling and fired bullets, Smailović was engulfed by light, the light of hope he was spreading all over the battered city. No crowd applauding to his performance, just Angels protecting him.

It’s been years since the dreadful siege and the civil war in my country ended, but did Sarajevo recover from its dark past? Did my people ever forget? the victims, the mass graves, and the fear they lived in all those years…

We are never entirely healed of our memory.

Al Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus Syria, another Sarajevo, another siege, people dying from a severe lack of food, water and medical supplies, massive destruction of homes and buildings, for weeks the Government forces besieged the camp and starved its people on purpose, the majority of them Palestinians who were exiled from their country in 1948, they found themselves caught against their will in a merciless war that made Damascus, a beautiful and rich city…Middle East’s capital of hell.

History repeats itself, it always strikes me how it does, and not always in the gentlest way, I believed it with all my being when I saw young men with a battered piano in the middle of rubble playing music and singing for peace and freedom, I said: if Vedran Smailović could see those proud and defiant guys whose souls are connected to his, one of them a pianist who started playing since he was six, he used to repair musical instruments with his father and studied music in the university of Homs*, the others, just ordinary people praying for the end of the war, and dreaming of a safe united country again in their own way.

They sang: “Oh displaced people, return; the journey has gone for too long. Yarmouk we are a part of you and that will never change.”

Smailović would have loved what those Palestinians did, because he, of all people will understand the meaning of creating beauty amid destruction, and defying death with the language of the soul…Music

(I would secretly thank that man who set up his piano in front of armed police, a day after protesters in Kiev brought down the statue of Lenin, and played Chopin…he inspired me to write this post)

*Homs: a Syrian city

Editorial note:  A partial translation of the song and apologies for any inaccuracy.
“from among the ruins and under the ashes, the [Palestinian] phoenix sings for life and will rise again for the cause of freedom …”

– Imen Benyoub

© 2014, essay, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved; photo credit ~ Rashid Essa (Almadon News), youth in Al Yarmouk Refugee Camp, ” © electronic cities” under CC A-SA, no modification to photograph is allowed

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pictureIMEN BENYOUB ~ is a multilingual, multi-talented writer, poet, and artist living in Guelma, Algeria. She is a regular contributor to Into the Bardo and to On the Plum Tree and Plum Tree Books Facebook page.

Posted in Disability, Essay, General Interest, memoir, Mental Health, Michael Watson

The Olympics, Polio, and the Medicine Wheel, Part One

Snowy-MorningEditor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part piece on Perfectionism originally posted on Dreaming the World. Part II will post here tomorrow.

I am an elder, and as such I am given the task of teaching and supporting the young. On the Medicine Wheel of this lifetime I am in the Northwest, the place of honoring the challenges of my life, understanding them as best as I am able, and sharing what I have learned with others. Perhaps you will share your thoughts about the experiences I share below; I would greatly value that.

We, along with many others, spent a good deal of time during the past two weeks watching the Olympics. Over time we noticed, especially from NBC’s coverage, that the commentators seem to believe winning and perfection were all important. This is a sad thing. One does not have to watch much before one becomes aware the announcers are ceaselessly pointing out errors and failures. Rather than empathy for the competitors, one is barraged with demands for perfection and minute details about failure to achieve such.  There is very little celebration of the athletes who fail to meet the announcers’ or judges’ criteria.

This hits home on two fronts. The first is cultural. I was raised to appreciate the efforts of all. Winning is fun, but should not shame others. Nor should anyone be left behind after the games are over. Further, perfection was considered suspect. One was advised to build imperfection into one’s art and welcome it in one’s life. After all, we are not the Creator although we are aspects of His/Her creation. Only the Creator can be perfect, and it is likely even S/He makes mistakes; as we are reflective of the Creator this suggests that even mistakes can be good and holy. The unbridled pursuit of perfection endangers the individual and the culture, the community and the ecosystem.

The second part is I am a survivor of Bulbar Polio. My phsysiatrist says I am “a walking quad”; rather than disparaging, this is a simple statement of truth. I have severe neurological injuries; Polio destroyed motor neurons all over my body. My arms and hands have considerably diminished capacity; my legs and feet lack strength and mobility; breathing can be a challenge. I am not perfect by the dominant culture’s standards.

Add to this my Native American heritage and the soup becomes thick indeed. I once heard a man, who understandably thought he was with other Europeans, say something like,  “There is nothing more pathetic than a disabled Indian.”  What are we to do with that? Indeed, what are we to do with NBC’s virtual silence on the topic of the Para-Olympics?

Herein lies the difficulty. One one hand I was encouraged to accept  and honor imperfections. On the other, as a Polio survivor I was taught to do my level best to pass as normal, to overcome limitations, and to forget my illness and its  aftermath. Additionally, as a child in a Native family that was actively passing, I was taught to be invisible, a lesson that surely applied to Polio as well.

It is a profound challenge to resist the limiting messages of our families and the dehumanizing ones of the dominant culture. I have done my best, yet I have also spent much of my life seeking to achieve others’ views of perfection, even though not even normalcy was not an option.This has been painful.

I don’t know whether you have ever thought about the Wounded Healer.  In Traditional cultures ill youngsters are often expected, should they recover, to become healers. I use the term “recovery” loosely. Youngsters who face and survive catastrophic illness may not have the same physical capacities as their normative friends. Yet their illness may also give them abilities and insights not readily available to others. When the child is ill the healers do their best to aid. They also seek to discern the nature of the illness; often such illness are understood to be calls from the spirits, initiations into the realm of healers. When there is a spirit call, training in the healing arts accompanies recovery. The illness frequently leaves a footprint in the life and work of the survivor; he or she becomes a wounded healer, knowledgeable about many of the territories and challenges that accompany illness.

This is a different model than the academic learning focus of the West. Of course, the two paths are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they may intersect, even overlap at times. Both address the needs of the body. Some Western trained healers have adopted the Indigenous understanding that the soul and psyche must also be attended to.  (Milton Erickson, although not to my knowledge Indian, comes to mind as someone who walked both roads well.)

I have come to this point on the Medicine Wheel by living my life from within this severely injured body. This is a sharp contrast to the physically perfection of elite Olympic athletes, or the health and wealth gurus we see on PBS and on innumerable infomercials. The television sages convey the message to us that illness, poverty, loneliness, and all other forms of suffering are moral failures. They do not speak this directly, rather they hold up their carefully managed perfection as a mirror to our human frailties. They offer advice, even salvation; for a fee we can be just like them. But I, and many others, cannot.  The very lifestyles they espouse harm us, and endanger our precious planetary ecosystem and all that lives therein. Where, I wonder is their wisdom and compassion?

We approach the Spring, the East in the Abenaki view of the Medicine Wheel, the place of rebirth and awakening. I am curious how my changing understanding of this beloved, traumatized body will blossom in the coming year.  I wonder whether our culture can set aside the deeply held values of independence, competition, and perfectionism that shaped the  our country (the very ones espoused by those television commentators). Can we own our imperfections, and acknowledge the harm we have inflicted on ourselves and so many others, inside and outside our country? Can we embrace those who suffer illness, poverty, displacement, abuse, or isolation?

As we follow the journey of the sun into the East, we are invited to begin again, to open our eyes and practice compassion and understanding. May we  find the courage to do so.

– Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2014, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Posted in Beauty, General Interest, Guest Writer, Imen Benyoub, Poems/Poetry, Poets/Writers

A Heart Without Borders

A Heart Without Borders was originally published in On the Plum Tree and is shared here with the permission of author, Imen Benyoub, and publisher, Niamh Clune.

“Algerian, Imen Benyoub is a poet I have long admired. She writes with such feeling and movement. There is something veiled about her poems that entices you to want to dive into an underlying mystery.” Niamh Clune, Ph.D.  (On the Plum Tree), creator of Plum Tree Books

Editorial Note: We are pleased to welcome Niamh Clune and Imen Benyoub to the Bardo community of readers and contributors.  Niamh has joined us as one of the Core Team members and Imen as a guest writer. As a member of the Core Team, Niamh’s prophetic and mystical writing and art will regularly grace our pages and our hope is that Imen will share more of her work with us as well.  Here Imen tells us of her love of poetry and her admiration for one of the poets of the more recent Palestinian diaspora, Nathalie Handal.

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Nathalie Handal, Palestinian-American poet
Nathalie Handal, Palestinian-American poet and playwright

When I write, I surrender.

Surrender my senses to a delicious chaos – my soul to reach a deeper abyss and my heart to travel outside its borders.

It is the freedom that comes with writing that made me live through my pen and left me endlessly caught between worlds and words.

It is the freedom that sent Nathalie Handal on a journey from New York to Andalucia – full of colours, textures, and fragrant with history, to recreate the journey of her favourite poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, in reverse, and reconnect with her Mediterranean Eastern roots.

I was confused about what to call a woman whose soul stretches across four continents, a woman with many identites and many homes. But after reading “Poet in Andalucia,” I realized she is a woman who does not recognize borders. Like a gypsy, she moves, collects memories, scents, music, visions of landscapes and secret longings and fuses them into poems.

Nathalie Handal, a poet, playwright, translator and editor was born to Palestinian parents from Bethelehem. She travelled extensively through the United States, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. Like Mahmoud Darwish and many exiled Palestinian poets, she tries to give a new meaning and shape to the word “home,” and Andalucia with the richness and the complexity of its cultural and religious heritage reminds her of her own country, where Muslims, Christians and Jews live together in harmony and peace. Drowning in nostalgia for a beautiful yet sad past, Handal tries to revive traditions of Andalusian poets, along with the spirit of Lorca who inspires her work.

Her poems drip with sensuality and longing, woven in English, Arabic, French and Spanish, languages she grew up speaking as a result of her displacement, a special feature that gave her work a multi-layered depth and musicality.

Along with “Poet in Andalucia,” Handal published “The Lives Of Rain,” “The Neverfield” and “Love And Strange Horses.” She won numerous awards and she lectures worldwide.

Nathalie Handal is a universal poet; her poetry is a mirror to her lifestyle as a beautiful nomad in search for an identity. Her voice is honest and passionate, where the East embraces the West in a beautiful harmony.

– Imen Benyoub

© 2013, essay, Imen Benyoub, All rights reserved

IMEN BENYOUB – As indicated by Namh Clune in the introductory statement, Imen is a talented poet in her own right, hence this video that provides a sample. The poem is Imen’s. It is read by Eabha Rose (theartre  of words). The music is by Trian Kayhatu (band camp).