ko.yan.nis.qatsi (from the Hopi Language) n. 1. crazy life. 2. life in turmoil. 3. life out of balance. 4. life disintegrating. 5. a state of life that calls for another way of living.
When I was 19 I lived as a student in Spain, and did the obligatory penny-pinching student-rush through Europe over winter break. We were in Paris for three days. I remember that nearly everywhere we walked, we could see the Eiffel Tower. I often did a telescope exercise in my head — stepping back and imagining a globe with a blinking white light marking the “City that Lights the World,” Schenectady, New York, where I was born, and another blinking light blanc-bleu-rouge from Paris, the “City of Lights” where with friends we shared long loaves of crusty bread and cheeses we could barely pronounce. What a distance I had traveled.
I remember another telescope exercise like this, from a book by Jerry Mander (I think). I believe about a million years ago I read a passage like this in “In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indigenous.” The image goes like this: “Martians” hover just above the planet and watch life in the US. They see so many humans huddled in their homes around a box every night, quiet and intent. And the next day these humans go out and do many things, but muchly what the voices in the box told them to do. Buy the striped toothpaste. Eat at Carl’s Jr. Adopt a kitten.
So I do this sometimes. I step back and look from a distance. If I look at what is happening now in the all-the-news-all-the-time election shenanigans, it must be said that we do not look particularly sane just now, close-up, from a distance, from within, without, upside-down or backwards. We are in turmoil.
It may have taken all of us too long to condemn the words and actions of a man who came out of the gate last summer blasting and belittling our fellow humans — Mexicans, immigrants, refugees, women… The list is long. We thought he would topple from the weight of his own ego and bluster. We thought he wouldn’t last. We didn’t realize he was picking at the scab that had barely formed (if incompletely) over our own dark fear of others.
I often did another telescoping exercise — living in the tropics so many years, I was often at the receiving end of very strong hurricanes. I would huddle in our safe space, listening to the din of the wind. I pictured the map, with the giant menace of spiralled winds out there advancing toward our dot. As the creeping storm moved toward our swath of the map we had no choice but to prepare as best we could and wait it out with no small degree of thrashing against impotence. It was impossible to calculate the damage those storms would cause — they were ruled only by forces of nature. What we wouldn’t have done to keep that devastation at bay… I pictured a whole line of us at sea’s edge, palms raised: “Just STOP it now!”
The dangers posed by our current political climate and the storms abrew are human constructs. We ought to be able to confront them with some of our long-collected brewed-under-intense-heat human wisdom and stop them before they wreak havoc, not let them throw us into such imbalance, stand up to them with palms raised and say “BASTA!”
I also draw close to the earth at times, now watching for spring bulbs poking through the earth. Nature knows how to renew.