Exploring The Death With Dignity Act

 

Exploring The Death With Dignity Act

Victoria Christensen

 

Physician-assisted suicide has become increasingly controversial over the past two decades.  Only two states, Oregon and Washington, have legalized the practice, despite hard-fought campaigns in several other states to legalize it as well.  In 1994, Oregon voters approved the Death With Dignity Act (Ballot Measure 16) by a vote of 51% to 49%.  It became effective in 1998, surviving court challenges and a repeal effort, to make Oregon the first state in the country to legalize physician-assisted suicide.   The Oregon Death With Dignity Act allows an adult who is an Oregon resident and is suffering from a terminal disease that will cause death within six months, to terminate his or her life through the use of medication.  To do so, the person must express voluntarily his or her wish to die, must make a written request for the medication, and be found by the person’s attending physician and consulting physician to be suffering from a terminal disease.  The Death With Dignity Act is important for social work, particularly medical social work, because it directly affects an individual’s right to die, which in many ways contradicts the medical communities oath to keep people living as long as possible.  The DWDA enables qualified patients to avoid unnecessary suffering, to die with dignity, and to respect those patients’ right to autonomy or self-determination.  While there is no way I can address the complexity of this issue in this article, I will describe the social problems being addressed by the policy, discuss the history of the Act, provide a thorough description of the goals of the Policy and discuss the current status of the policy in Oregon.  

The Death With Dignity Act addresses the crucial social problem of allowing dying patients the right to control their own end of life care.   It is common knowledge that the aging population is increasing globally.   As a result, there is a pressing need for physician-assisted suicide across the globe; however, the notion of suicide stirs up a number of ethical issues about the choices people should or should not have with regard to death.  There are conflicting opinions by multiple groups; such as religious organizations, the medical community, and consumer groups.  Marjorie Zucker’s book The Right To Die Debate: A Documentary History (1999) examines the many voices in the debate and explores the controversy in depth.  In the introduction, she lays the foundation for the debate and explains why the ethical social problem has emerged in response to the way death in America has changed in conjunction with the progress of medical technology.

While modern medicine has made great technological strides in the Twentieth century to save and improve lives, physicians can and frequently use this technology to prolong the dying process.  She writes, “As physicians became increasingly adept at using developing technology and justifiably dependent upon it, they began to be uncomfortable with the notion that some patients ultimately could not be saved.  Medical professionals received a great deal of positive reinforcement for refusing to ‘give up,’ and many looked upon the death of a patient as a failure of their own” (Zucker, 1999, xxvi).  In response to the way death in America has changed, many health care professionals, lawyers, educators and members of the public began raising ethical and public policy questions; such as, when does the use of technology become overuse or abuse? When in the course of an individual’s illness should technology be focused on providing comfort rather than prolonging dying?

When is enough enough?   These questions have led to considerable controversy and a national conversation known as the right-to-die debate (Zucker, 1999).

The arguments in favor of a legal right to physician-assisted suicide are strong and varied.  The debate is often portrayed as a battle between social or religious conservatives who oppose the practice and liberals or progressives who support it. Those who support the Death With Dignity Act argue that death can be dreadful with high-tech medicine.  Patients who endure intolerable suffering ought to be able to end his/her life before her human capacities are irreparably damaged.  Furthermore, there ought to be a legal right to physician-assisted suicide in order to respect the patient’s moral right to autonomy and self determination.

There is research that has documented the most common reasons why someone might want to hasten their life. According to a report about DWDA by the Legislative Committee Services (June, 2010) “Physicians and families reported that patients have several reasons for requesting lethal medication.  These include concerns about losing autonomy, losing control of bodily functions, a decreasing ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable, and physical suffering.  Also, many family members added that patients wanted to control the manner and time of their death” (p. 2).  

Assisted-suicide advocates often base their arguments on the moral conviction that each individual has an inherent right to determine his or her own destiny.  Thus, the right to life includes the right to end life, and it is as wrong to deny that right as it is to deprive a person of any other liberty.  They say that suicide is already legal in all states; only assistance in carrying it out is at issue (Zucker, 1999).  It is for these reasons and more that the terminally ill wish for a dignified death, and for these reasons that supporters of PAS wish to enable caregivers to provide it.

Death with Dignity is not only a legal issue, but a cultural and spiritual issue, too. Some faith traditions have embraced Death with Dignity as an ultimate act of compassion, and others reject it is as morally bankrupt practice.  Some opponents of legalizing physician-assisted suicide believe that intentionally causing the death of someone, even one who is dying, is morally unacceptable.  Sylvia Engdahl writes that “Most religions have traditionally held that all human life is sacred and that suicide is therefore immoral.  Christians believe that life is a gift from God so only God should determine when it should end; some of them believe that they would be punished in an afterlife for taking their own lives” (2009, pg. 65).

The main objection to the legalization of assisted suicide, apart from religious grounds, is that is may be a “slippery slope” issue.  In other words, one thing might lead to another—once a small concession is granted, the door is opened to larger ones. Opponents believe that such laws might extend to people who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabilities that are not terminal, but are costly and life debilitating—perhaps eventually even to the mentally ill.  Another argument is that if assisted suicide is legalized, sick people may be pressured into requesting it if they cannot afford medical care to relieve their suffering. Adrienne Asch, a noted bioethicist and authority on the rights of the disabled writes “Disability-rights activists fear that availability of assisted suicide will sway the public Into thinking that some people’s lives are not worth living, and that the ill and disabled may be led to feel that they have a duty to die rather than burden society with their care” (2005, p. 31). In other words, there is a fear that individuals disabled by a terminal illness would be discriminated against because Oregon law would no longer protect their lives in the same way it protects the lives of healthy Oregonians.

Opponents also argue that it is difficult to determine whether or not the patient has six months or less to live. In addition, there is a concern about the psycho-social condition of the dying patient. Daniel Callahan, M.D says that “the most common hazard of legalizing assisted suicide is the possibility that the patient is suffering from a clinical depression in the face of his or her illness and anticipated death.  Since depression is potentially treatable, a physician contemplating assisting in suicide must be very much aware of this possibility (1997, 71).  In other words, it is common for terminally ill patients to have some degree of depression, and that it is often difficult for some health care providers to detect as they don’t specialize in mental health issues.

            Prior to the Death With Dignity Act, there were no previous social policies that addressed assisted-suicide at the end of life.  However, prior to the 1950’s there was the beginnings of a Euthenasia Movement.  During the 1940’s the Euthanasia Society was formed with the intention to spread it’s message as widely as possible in speeches, on the radio, and in articles for magazines.   The society also wanted to promote legislation permitting voluntary euthanasia. Marjorie Zucker thoroughly documents the Euthenasia movement in her book The Right to Die Debate. She documents the impact of changes in medical care on end of life issues. The increased ability to maintain the life of mortally ill patients created a dilemma for physicians:  When, if ever, should they stop treatment?  While Euthanasia was highly controversial, medical professionals and educators realized the need for continued education.  Marjorie writes:

During the period 1953-65, the Euthanasia Society of America functioned as an educational organization, providing speakers to organizational meetings and on the radio.  No further attempts were made to pass legislation in this field.  However, the increased ability to maintain life in mortally ill patients provided a new impetus to the discussion of euthanasia.  Two influential books published in the mid-1950’s contained chapters on euthanasia.  One of these books was entitled Morals and Medicine, by Joseph Fletcher, professor of pastoral theology and Christian ethics at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusettes, who was in favor of voluntary euthanasia (1999, pg. 64).

            As medicine became more advanced and increased peoples’ life spans, most were living to a reasonably healthy and comfortable age.  But for some, life became miserable, and for patients who were unconscious, it became meaningless.  As a result, the wish to control one’s fate, especially when one could no longer speak for oneself, led to the development of living wills or advance directives, or, documents that leave instructions for one’s treatment.  A man by the name of Luis Kutner, a Chicago human rights lawyer who promoted his strong beliefs in human rights in several ways, conceived the “living will,” a term that he coined.  A living will is a document that states one’s wishes about medical treatment at the end of life if one is unable to communicate them directly. Supposedly Kutner spoke at a meeting organized by the Euthanasia Society of America in 1967 and they drew up a living will in response to his proposal and distributed a quarter of a million copies to various medical professionals (Zucker, 1999). 

The Act began as a citizen initiative petition in 1994.  Ballot Measure 16 was approved by voters by a 51 to 49 percent margin in 1994. Despite the measures passage, implementation was tied up in the courts for several years. A legal injunction delayed initial implementation of the Act until October 27, 1997, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction. The 1995 Legislative Assembly referred Ballot Measure 51 (authorized by House Bill 2954) to voters on the November 1997 ballot, which would have repealed the Death with Dignity Act. Oregon voters chose to retain the Act by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent. (Oregon Legislative Policy and Research Office, 1997)

Oregon and Washington are the only two states in the union that allow physician-assisted suicide. However, there is a long term goal to assist other states with the implementation of the policy. According to the Death With Dignity National Center Website, there has been a growing support of the Movement:

 With the 14 years of data showing Oregon's Death with Dignity law is safe and utilized the way it was intended with no evidence of a slippery slope for vulnerable Oregonians and since our win in Washington in 2008, bills which seek to improve end-of-life care have been introduced in state legislatures around the country.

State legislators have the Oregon and Washington laws to use as a guide. While many bills are drafted each year, the majority fail. Some consider it a failure that most bills do not end up becoming law, but we view these bills as a testament to the growing support of the Death with Dignity movement, the will of the public, and the strength of Oregon's and Washington's model legislation.

 Measure 16 is regarded as one of the most controversial ballot measures in Oregon’s history. As a result, various agencies are required to do long term research studies that document the progress and issues that arise.  The Oregon Health Division is required to annually review a sample of medical records of patients who requested a life-ending prescription.  In addition, they generate and make available to the public an annual statistical report of information collected under the Act.

The status of the policy in Oregon is good.  Oregon Public Health Division released it’s annual report for 2011, which reflects statistics from the 14th year of implementation, and encompasses data from January 7, 2011- February 29, 2012.  Peg Sandeen, MSW and policy advocate of the Death With Dignity National Center provides a concise summary of the report:

Consistent with information from prior years, the data show Death with Dignity is a rarely used option for a small number of terminally ill Oregonians. The report indicates the process was implemented, in every instance, under the strict guidelines written into Oregon law and the established medical standard of care that has evolved since implementation.

 

During the 13 months covered by the report, 114 qualified patients received a prescription under the provisions of the law. Approximately 62%, or 71 terminally ill individuals, died as a result of ingesting medication prescribed under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. Sixty-two different physicians wrote prescriptions under the law. According to the Health Division's report, in the 14 year history of implementation, 935 prescriptions have been written and 596 individuals have ingested medication and died using the standards spelled out in Oregon law.

 

Similar to prior years, most of the qualified patients who used the medication to hasten death were over 65, had a terminal diagnosis of cancer, and received palliative care service through hospice. Additionally, participants tended to be well-educated (48% with a four year degree or more), had access to some form of insurance (96% with public or private insurance), and died at home (94%). The most commonly reported end-of-life concerns were: less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable (90%), losing autonomy (88.7%), and loss of dignity (74.6%) (2012).

 

It is important to note that the use of the term “Assisted Suicide” has been called into question by the American Public Health Association as it has negative connotations.

While “physician-assisted suicide” is an accurate and descriptive term, it should be replaced with the advocacy-phrase “aid in dying.”   Activists needed to make an attempt to redefine the crime of assisted suicide as a legitimate “medical treatment.”  Rita L Marker, an attorney and executive director of the International Task Force on Euthenasia and Assisted Suicide revealed that the term has negatively affected the Assisted Suicide Movement.  She writes, “In the more than ten years since the passage of the Oregon law, state after state has considered legalizing assisted suicide.  Each time, there was early support for the measure.  Yet, in each instance, when the official vote was taken, support had evaporated and the proposal went down in defeat” (2009, p. 121). 

As a result, assisted suicide proponents, particularly Compassion and Choices, searched for some way to improve their position.  Thus, they commissioned research and polling.  They found that people have a negative impression of the term “assisted suicide,” but, if euphemistic slogans like “death with dignity” or “end of life choices” were used to describe the same action, response was relatively positive. They embarked on a mission to replace it with kinder, gentler language.   In addition, they wrote press releases to the media, the state of Oregon and major public-policy organizations claiming that use of the term “assisted suicide” demonstrated insensitivity to dying patients and to the physicians who assisted them (Marker, 2007).

 

 References:

 

Zucker, Marjorie. (1999).  The Right To Die Debate:  A Documentary History. Greenwood Press: London, pg. xxvi.

Taylor, Bill. (2010).  Oregon Death With Dignity Act, Legislative Committee Services Report, Salem, Oregon, June 2010, pg 2.

Engdahl, Sylvia. (2009).  Assisted Suicide: Current Contraversies, Greenhaven Press: MI, pg. 65.

Asch, Adrienne. (2005).  “Recognizing Death While Affirming Life,” Hastings Center Special Report, November-December, p. 31.

Callahan, Daniel. (1997).  “Self-Extinction: The Morality of the Helping Hand,” Chapter 3, in Robert F. Weir, ed., Physician-assisted Suicide, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 71.

Long, Lori. (1997). Basics on Ballot Measure 51, Oregon Legislative Policy and Research Office Report, Salem, Oregon.

Sandeen, Peg. (2012). Oregon Death with Dignity 2011 Report. Death With Dignity National Center.  Retrieved from: http://www.deathwithdignity.org/2012/03/07/oregon-death-dignity-2011-report

Marker, Rita. (2007). “When Killing Yourself Isn’t Suicide,” National Review, March 5, 2007,pg. 121.

 

 

Feminine Mysticism in Art:  Artists Envisioning the Divine

Feminine Mysticism in Art: Artists Envisioning the Divine

By Victoria Christian

The rise in the United States in recent years of feminist religious movements that focus on female images of the divine Goddess suggests that many women, in addition to men, find goddess symbolism to be appealing. Many feminist artists, too, claim to have found inspiration in goddesses and goddess symbolism as they provoke reminiscent feelings of a distant past—a vague, yet familiar reality lost to westerners. Feminist critiques of religion and some postmodernists have taken issue with traditional images of God, arguing that male hegemony in Western cultures can be correlated directly with the centrality of a single, all-powerful male god in the dominant strands of the predominately Jewish and Christian religious heritage of Europe and the United States. Many would argue further that given this situation, it is important for women as well as for men with feminist goals to recover or create empowering female symbols to help combat the ones that support patriarchy and the denial of the feminine principle.


For the past ten years I have been researching the work of contemporary female visionary artists from all over the United States. My mission has been two-fold; to study the stages of their development of an identity as women artists, separate and distinct from that of a male artist, and to study the impact and development of feminine mysticism on their lives and on the world at large. Since the former concepts are too broad to be addressed here, and will be dealt with in two separate books, I will confine myself to a discussion of the latter category and will share with you some of the inspired and moving visualizations of the Divine Mother which these artists have graciously shared with me. I will also identify the unique and fundamental role female mystics and visionaries play in our society’s ability to shift into a “new paradigm”, which essentially is an integration between the masculine and feminine principle within each individual and society at large.


The feminist art movement in the 1970s paved the way for contemporary feminine mystics and visionary artists as they challenged the dominant patriarchal ideologies of Judeo-Christianity, particularly its overall subjugation of the feminine principle. Contemporary female mystics and Goddess artists both participate and expand on this tradition. However, working within a postmodern society undoubtedly poses new difficulties for contemporary women artists, especially for those who are committed to integrating spirituality into their work. Although there are indeed more opportunities for women artists, they continue to work within a rational and patriarchal society that not only devalues the feminine principle, but subjective modes of knowing.


In the information age, many women artists face an overabundance of information and a bewildering range of options which can fragment and overwhelm them. Not only are they required to adapt to the rapidly changing technological age of computers; they are also required to develop an assortment of personal and business skills in order to exist in a highly competitive market, yet still live up to the expectations of the good mother and wife roles they have internalized from their parents and culture.


The complexities and demands these female mystics and visionary artists continue to face can often produce a deep wound, which I refer to as “the visionary’s wound.” This wound is caused by a backlash in the form of harsh criticism and rejection by a fearful and intimidated dominant paradigm that hates the reflection visionary artists can’t help but offer—a reflection of society’s shadow self, as well as its beauty. It is this wound that all mystics and visionary artists have to come to terms with at some point in their life in order to remain viable in today’s increasingly competitive environment.

Some have consciously chosen to hide out from the world because, in their eyes, the world is too painful for them to deal with. Others have made a conscious effort to heal their wounds and begin to trust in the Great Spirit to guide them on their artistic journey in the world. Nonetheless, many female mystics and visionary artists know of this wound; in fact, they live with it every day. Yet, ironically, it is often because of this wound that these women artists can create works so profound, so deep, so complex, so spiritual and so compassionate. It is because of this wound and the reclaiming of the parts of themselves that have been in bondage that their artwork is so exquisitely meaningful and impacting.


For example, a painting entitled “An angry Young Woman” by visionary artist Uma Rose[1] is a perfect example of the “visionary’s wound” and the anger and pain it has brought to her life. She views this painting as a premonition of sorts, as she didn’t fully understand why she painted it until later in life. At the time she did the painting she had been delving into transcendental meditation, enabling her to get in touch with various hidden parts of herself. The woman in orange is holding a rattle, which is a shamanic tool used to guide people into a higher state of consciousness. She intentionally made the woman’s throat area to look as if it was swollen, or as she describes it, “pregnant with rage.” While in a shamanic trance, a spirit guide came to her whom she describes as “a loving old wise woman who was trying to help me to release the rage that I was holding in my throat.”

Uma believes this guide was an embodiment of the great Mother who had come to help her release pent-up emotions which had remained trapped in her emotional body. She believes this painting is an example of unconscious desire becoming conscious through the artistic process. In other words, her desire for emotional release as well as a desire for meaningful ceremonies was calling out to her, producing “a magical process of bringing unconscious desire into manifestation which brought deeper understandings about myself.” Through the embracing and releasing of her rage, or her shadow self, she was able to get in touch with her pain and the deep wounds that were blocking her ability to grow spiritually and artistically. It is through the release of this rage and the healing of her wounds that she was able to cultivate compassion for herself and for others.

Other artists have envisioned the divine feminine in the form of Quan Yin, who is one of the most universally beloved of deities in the Buddhist tradition. She is the embodiment of compassionate loving kindness. The many stories about this Goddess illustrate an enlightened being who embodies the attributes of an all-pervasive, all consuming, unwavering loving compassion readily accessible to everyone. Theresa Sharrar, an impressionistic and mystical painter from Silverton, Oregon, envisioned a bright and colorful representation of Quan Yin in a beautiful pristine garden with translucent pools of water cascading from top to bottom.[2] To her, the water symbolizes the endless flow of love and compassion bestowed by Quan Yin. Her loving compassion not only nourishes the human spirit, but calls us to open our hearts so that we can receive her love and in turn, learn to love and accept others.

Resonant of the soft and gentle beauty of Quan Yin, cosmo artist Ausmaminea from Sedona, Arizona created a stunning piece entitled “Life Pattern”.[3] Although it wasn’t her intention to paint Quan Yin per se, she definitely captured her universal essence. She said, “The inspiration for creating this piece came from the beautiful poetry found within the unfolding of new life on a world as described in the Urantia Book. It was my desire to express a timeless sense of balance and serenity as the Universe Mother Spirit patiently and lovingly watches over the new stirrings of life. Through the medium of glass I worked a mosaic tapestry as part of the composition to express the diverse life pattern on each unique world. The oriental feel gives our mother a connection to this world, and yet there is an other-worldly aspect to her, I feel, that captures her essence as universal.”

The Great Goddess has most definitely revealed herself to various cultures in an assortment of ways. However, all cultures at some point referred to the Earth as the Great Mother, a living entity who in both her temporal and spiritual manifestations creates and nurtures all forms of life. In light of the ancient nature based religions, or the Gaia tradition, a number of female mystics envision the great goddess as Earth Mother. Krista Lynn Brown, from Deva Luna Studio in California, creates powerful, earthy Goddess images that portray a deep and rich relationship between humans and the earth. Her image entitled, “Sleeping Earth” is a potent representation of the Divine in all of her glory and splendor.[4]


Offering sustenance and holding the seed of creation and potential, the great Mother nourishes us in more ways than we know. She says, “My paintings are an invitation into a hidden magical reality shimmering beneath skin of the ordinary—portals to an alive interior landscape of dreams, visions and possibilities. In this supple place, plants can awaken and dance, a woman can become a river sighing to the moon and a bird can embody the fleeting voice of intuition. I see this reality and paint it in a language of visual poetry, a tongue of archetypes woven into forms that echo the movements of nature, the undulations of waves, the growth of vines, the contours of flowers.” Krista’s images are by far some of the most powerful images of the Goddess I’ve yet to come across.

During the Neolithic Era, spiritual ceremonies were often performed in a cave. As the womb of the Earth Goddess, the cave was considered by the ancients to be the repository of mystic influences. In the original cosmology, a cave was the symbol of the whole world, providing passage for the dead and for the rebirth of souls. This is where one went to commune with the deepest, most resonant and awesome powers. In fact, many tribal people and Native Americans still hold the belief that their first, mystic ancestors emerged from caverns, or “the underworld.” One of my recent paintings, entitled “Towards the Within,” portrays a woman meditating in a cave, with sagebrush burning in an abalone shell[5]. She is in a state of complete inner focus, which means her self or ego has been transcended. Rising above her head into the heavens is what I refer to as the universal unconscious or an umbilical cord to the spirit realm. Like Uma Rose, I didn’t fully understand why I painted this piece until much later when I happened upon the symbolism and meaning of the cave in ancient sacred art. Living in the southwest, I am surrounded by breathtaking caverns and caves, some of which have been designated as sacred sites to the Navajo and Hopi Indians. There are certain times of the day that the light shines through, illuminating the curvaceous and spiraling canyon walls. In my visits to various canyons, the peaceful stillness of the canyon quiets my mind and opens up the small still voice within me.

At the time I painted “Towards the Within” I was deeply yearning for a spiritual path which would incorporate the use of sacred ceremonies and meditation. I was also being called to integrate my spirituality with my art. After taking courses in the sociology of religion, I came to the realization that there are jewels of truth in all religious paths. In the funnel of universal unconscious seen in Towards the Within are found various religious symbols, such as the yin/yang symbol, the infinity symbol, the third eye, the Star of David and the cross, symbolizing a synthesis and integration of the world’s religions. What really surprised me about this painting, however, is what happened to me during the painting process. Although I didn’t understand it at the time, after doing some research on the Tantric and Kundalini Yoga traditions, I’m convinced that while painting “Towards the Within” I experienced a raising of Kundalini energy in my sexual chakras causing me to have hot flashes, a quickened heart beat and to feel sick to my stomach. A combination of painting the womb of the Mother and using a lot of red and orange paint, the colors of the sexual chakras, may have been the catalyst. Kundalini, the mystic fire, is the awakening of the great sexual powers, or shakti-kundalini—the cosmic movement that is shakti, and her movement in the human body, which is kundalini.

Also, much to my surprise, deep within the canyon walls a vagina emerged, partly covered up by the funnel of symbols. Next, the faces in the canyon walls began to emerge. Although I was a bit frightened at first by the experience, I felt an enormous amount of love flowing through my body, which helped me to relax and move with the experience. I feel strongly that the divine goddess was revealing herself to me in this painting in one of her many forms. Yet, at the time I knew nothing of what the cave symbolized in ancient matristic societies. In fact, I didn’t know that the cave was a place of spiritual rebirth until I did the research for this article.

Another beautiful representation of the divine love between Mother and Father God is a piece entitled “Unification,” by cosmic and visionary artist Willowela Wilson.[6] It is a beautiful representation of the love that is shared by the Universal Father and Mother. What is particularly stunning about this piece is the way she captured the immense love in the eyes of the two universal spirits. Her work expresses the spiritual connection of all things in life, tapping into the Creator of all for her inspiration and direction. Willow says, “My hope is that my art will communicate views of a higher reality, one than in the last decade has become a very real part of my life. It is a reality that involves being conscious of the fact that I am not alone and that God—who is the greatest artist of all has so many wonderful celestial helpers to assist and work with us all in the creative endeavors in life.”

Through their art and artistic processes, these feminine mystics and visionary artists yearn to teach us about our intimate connection to the spirit realm and the deeper realms of the unconscious. They are also helping us to cultivate more compassion for each other as well as for the Earth, our Mother, through a re-membering of the Goddess principle, or Mother side of the face of God. Most importantly, they are challenging us to move out of the modernist mode of oppositional dualism into a new (yet ancient), more integrated mode of thinking which combines the Mother/Father principles of God into a unified whole, or sacred union. Perhaps a true embracing of the concept of both Mother and Father God principles will help to further our understanding of what an integrated and inclusive life can really offer to us as individuals, as a people and as a world.


©Victoria Christian


(Please note that you can see larger versions of each of the beautiful images above online! – editor)


Victoria Christian is a mystical artist, writer, integral psychotherapist, sociologist and eco-feminist. She is the head editor as well as a contributing writer and artist in her award winning book, Feminine Mysticism in Art: Artists Envisioning the Divine. For more information about her artwork and books, visit her website at www.awakeningsoulwisdom.com


1] Uma Rose, Angry Young Woman, www.rhiannons-visions.com

[2] Theresa Sharrar, Quan Yin, tandr750@gmail.com

[3] Ausmaminea, Life Pattern, ausmaminea@yahoo.com

[4] Krista Lynn Brown, Sleeping Earth, www.devaluna.com

[5] Victoria Christian, Towards the Within, www.victoriachristian.com

[6] Willowela Wilson, Unification, galleria@cosmoart.org


Effective Treatments for Alcoholism and Addiction

For most people, alcohol is accepted in our culture as a pleasurable accompaniment to social activities. However, a substantial number of people have serious trouble with their drinking. Alcoholism, which is also known as "alcohol dependence syndrome," is a disease that is characterized by the following elements: craving, loss of control, physical dependence, and increased tolerance. According to recent statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, "Nearly 14 million Americans--1 in every 13 adults--abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Several million more adults engage in risky drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. In addition, approximately 53 percent of men and women in the United States report that one or more of their close relatives have a drinking problem"(http://alcoholism.about.com/library/niaaa01.htm).

In addition, not only does alcohol abuse increase a variety of health risks, it also increases the risk of death from automobile crashes, recreational accidents, and on-the-job accidents. It is estimated that alcohol-use problems cost society approximately $100 billion per year (NIAAA website, 2013). The purpose of this article is to gain a greater understanding about alcoholics and the most effective strategies for treating alcoholism.

There is a plethora of research that is enhancing the practice among involuntary clients, or in this case, alcoholics. Scientists at Medical centers and universities throughout the country are studying alcoholism and have cutting edge information about it. Today, NIAAA funds approximately 90 percent of all alcoholism research in the United States. According to their website, “NIAAA is sponsoring promising research in vital areas, such as fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol’s effects on the brain and other organs, aspects of drinkers’ environments that may contribute to alcohol abuse and alcoholism, strategies to reduce alcohol-related problems, and new treatment techniques” (NIAAA website, 2013). The goal of this qualitative research interview is to further understand effective ways of treating and preventing alcohol problems.

First and foremost, Alcoholism is a complex issue that involves a multitude of factors; such as biological, psychological and social. “Alcoholism is due to many interconnected factors, including genetics, how you were raised, your social environment, and your emotional health. Some racial groups, such as American Indians and Native Alaskans, are more at risk than other of developing alcohol addiction. People who have a family history of alcoholism or who associate closely with heavy drinkers are more likely to develop drinking problems. In addition, those who suffer from a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder are also particularly at risk, because alcohol may be used to self-medicate.”

Recent research supported by NIAAA has demonstrated that for many people, a vulnerability to alcoholism is inherited. These findings show that children of alcoholics are about four times more likely than the general population to develop alcohol problems. Children of alcoholics also have a higher risk for many other behavioral and emotional problems. But alcoholism is not determined only by the genes your inherit from your parents. It is important to recognize that aspects of a person’s environment, such as peer influences and the availability of alcohol, also are significant influences.

The Addiction Recovery Center in Medford employs the use of several evidence based theoretical frameworks that have shown positive results. She introduced me to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), “a professional society representing over 3,000 physicians and associated professionals dedicated to increasing access and improving the quality of addiction treatment; educating physicians, other medical professionals and the public; supporting research and prevention; and promoting the appropriate role of physicians in the care of patients with addictions” (ASAM website, 2013). When a client applies for substance abuse services at the ARC, they are screened and assessed with the ASAM criterion, which evaluates a multitude of factors; such as physiological effects of drug withdrawl, psychological impact, physical complications, readiness to change and history of relapse. (http://www.asam.org/research-treatment/screening-and-assessment)

There are a number of theoretical models that the ARC approves in their treatment program. Depending on the severity of the addiction, the ARC recommends individual counseling, family counseling, group counseling and residential treatment housing. However, due to lack of time, she was only able to talk about a few; such as Motivational Enhancement Programs, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and 12-Step Facilitation Therapy. According to Noel “Treatment varies depending on the type of drug and the characteristics of the patient. The best programs provide a combination of therapies and other services. These models are designed to raise drinkers’ awareness of the impact alcohol has on their lives, as well as the lives of family, co-workers and society. They are encouraged to accept responsibility for past actions and make a commitment to change future behavior. Substance abuse therapists help alcoholic patients understand and accept the benefits of abstinence, review treatment options, and design a treatment plan to which they will commit” (Chaney, 2013).

The National Institute on Drug Abuse released a publication (2012) titled “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide” that highlights several evidence based treatment models that are working in treating alcoholism and other addictions. Each approach is designed to address certain aspects of drug addiction and its consequences for the individual, family, and society. Some of the approaches are intended to supplement or enhance existing treatment programs, and others are fairly comprehensive in and of themselves. The two approaches they mention are: Pharmacotherapies and Behavioral Therapies. The Pharmacotherapies consist of an assortment of medications that can be used in conjunction with individual, group and family therapies; such as Naltrexone, Acamprosate, Disulfiram and Topiramate. When used in combination with counseling, these prescription drugs lessen the craving for alcohol in many people and helps prevent a return to heavy drinking.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Behavioral approaches help engage people in drug abuse treatment, provide incentives for them to remain abstinent, modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug abuse, and increase their life skills to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cures that may trigger intense craving for drugs and prompt a relapse” (NIDA, 2013, 34). They identify a number of behavioral therapies shown to be effective in addressing substance abuse; such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Contingency Management Interventions/Motivational Incentives, Community Reinforcement Approach, Motivational Enhancement Therapy, The Matrix Model and 12 Step Facilitation Therapy.

While I can’t discuss all of these theoretical models, I will discuss Motivational Enhancement Therapy and 12-Step Facilitation Therapy. Using a nonjudgmental approach, Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) employs Motivational Interviewing (MI) to analyze feedback gained from client sessions. The goal of MET is to aid the client in clarifying his or her own perceptions and beliefs in order to direct him or her in a decisive way. According to GoodTherapy.Org: http://www.goodtherapy.org/motivational-enhancement-therapy.html

MET is administered in a receptive atmosphere that allows a client to receive feedback from the therapist for the purpose of fortifying the client’s resolve for transformation and to empower the client with a feeling of self-control. Rather than engaging the client’s defense mechanisms through confrontational discourse, the therapist works with the client to create positive affirmations and a sense of inner willingness to facilitate change. Once that is achieved, the client becomes receptive to the healing process and progresses toward wellness (2013, 23).

Motivational interviewing principles are used to strengthen motivation in the client and build a plan for change. Coping strategies are suggested and discussed with the patient and the therapist continues to encourage commitment to change or sustained abstinence.

Another effective treatment model is 12-Step Facilitation Therapy. This peer-support approach encourages people to become involved with a 12-step program that complements professionally supervised therapy. Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Smart Recovery and Women for Sobriety are typically recommended with all forms of alcoholism therapy because they provide alcohol-dependant Individuals with an encouraging, supportive environment. These support group meetings focus on abstinence and fosters each individual's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

While there is a lot of cutting edge research on alcoholism and methods of effective treatment, there is always room for further investigation. Not only is there a need for more genetic research, there is a need for alternative treatment approaches and effective medications that can be used in conjunction with therapy. In addition, addiction recovery treatment programs aren’t able to meet the needs of everyone; therefore, there is a need for research on alternatives methods for the treatment of alcoholism. Supposedly NIAAA has sponsored a study called project MATCH, which tested whether treatment outcome could be improved by matching patients to three types of treatment based on particular individual characteristics. This study found that all three types of treatment reduced drinking markedly in the year following treatment.

References:

La Clinica Website. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.laclinicahealth.org/

Travertini, Elise. (2013). Personal Interview about Agency.

 

 

THE CAUSE OF POVERTY AND SOLUTIONS IMPLEMENTED

There are many competing theories about the causes of poverty in the United States with mountains of empirical evidence to justify support for each.  Calculating who's poor is not only tricky, but controversial business. The official government data published by the United States Census Bureau shows that, “In 2012, the official poverty rate was 15.0 percent, or just over 46.5 million people”(U.S. Census, 2012, p.14).  It's an endless argument whether the actual number is more or less than that, but it's clear that tens of millions of Americans are poor and the numbers are rising due to the Great Recession. And even as the economy gains upward momentum, the prognosis for poor people is grim.  In this paper, I will compare and contrast two theories of poverty: culture of poverty theory and a Marxian or Conflict Theorist perspective, which views poverty as the result of economic, racial, and gender discrimination.

            Culture of Poverty theorists maintains that poverty and poverty traits are transmitted inter-generationally in a self-perpetuating cycle. It is influenced by Social Learning Theory, of which Albert Bandura created in 1977.  It theorizes that behavior in learned from the environment through the process of observational learning of role models, which includes family members and peers. Culture of Poverty theorists argue that poverty is largely the result of social and behavioral deficiencies in individuals that make them less economically viable within society. This suggests that individuals create, sustain, and transmit to future generations a culture that reinforces the various social and behavioral deficiencies (Parrillo, 2000).

In the 1960’s the writings of two men—Daniel P. Moynihan and Oscar Lewis—sparked an intense debate that continues to resonate today. “Oscar Lewis coined the term culture of poverty in his 1961 book The Children of Sanchez. Lewis based his thesis on his ethnographic studies of small Mexican communities. His studies uncovered approximately 50 attributes shared within these communities: frequent violence, a lack of a sense of history, a neglect of planning for the future, and so on”(Parrillo, 2000, p. 110). Many years later, the premise of the culture of poverty paradigm remains the same: that people in poverty share a consistent and observable "culture”, which is characterized by hopelessness, alienation, apathy, and a lack of participation in or integration into the social and economic fabric of society.

During the height of the civil rights movement, Lewis and Moynihan came under heavy criticism during the 1960s and 1970s. According to Vincent Parrillo, “While Lewis was a leftist and understood the structural forces of poverty, it later came to be associated with laying blame for poverty either on the poor themselves or on a government that keeps them dependent. Along these lines, it is the deficient character of the poor along with their deviant behavior and the resultant self-reinforcing environment that restrict their access to economic viability and success” (2000, p. 110).   This type of “blaming the victim” mentality is often associated with a conservative perspective, which puts all the responsibility for economic success on the individual.  According to Karger and Stoesz “Critics argue that Culture of Poverty theories divert attention away from the real structural conditions and discrimination causing poverty and that supposed characteristics of the COP are also evident in the middle and upper classes”(2000, p. 111).

Unlike neo-conservatives, a Marxist or Conflict perspective does not see social problems and poverty as the result of individual fault.  A German Sociologist by the name of Karl Marx, is the father of the social conflict theory. He published numerous books during his lifetime, the most notable being The Communist Manifesto (1848) and Das Kapital (1867–1894). “Marx's theories about society, economics and politics – collectively known as Marxism – hold that human societies progress through class struggle: a conflict between an ownership class that controls production and a dispossessed laboring class that provides the labor for production (Mullaly, 2007, p. 140).  Marx called capitalism the ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,’ believing it to be run by the wealthy classes for their own benefit; and he predicted that, like previous socioeconomic systems, capitalism produced internal tensions which would lead to its self-destruction and replacement by a new system: socialism (Mullaly, 2007).

According to Bob Mullaly, “Marxists believe that by focusing on the victims inequality, oppression, and alienation and calling them criminals, drug addicts, or poor people, we are actually labeling them as troublemakers.   Consequently, we neglect the social conditions of inequality, powerlessness, and institutional discrimination and violence that forms the basis of our troubled society”(2007:148). A Marxist analysis shows that social problems or poverty are the result of structural issues of inequality, oppression, and alienation.

For example, a Marxist analysis of poverty shows that poverty will never be resolved or eliminated in a capitalistic society because capitalism needs it.  Poverty carries out an assortment of functions for capitalism such as keeping wages down and profits up.  When people are poor, they will accept low wages to purchase basic necessities (Mullaly, 2007).  Not only are poor people exploited for their labor, they are forced to compete with each other for low paying jobs and out of desperation work for lower wages.  Many Americans work in jobs that barely keep them above water.  “About one- fourth of workers earn poverty-level wages, wages at or below the wage a full-time, full-year worker would need to earn to reach the poverty threshold for family of four, which was $22,314 in 2010”  (Michel, Bivens, Gould and Shierholz, 2012, p. 419).

In The State of Working America, a number of social theorists revealed several macro trends in the economic system and how they have contributed to the rising tide of poverty and growing social inequality between the rich and the poor.  The book offers a detailed discussion of rising economic disparity as evident in growing inequality of wages, incomes, and wealth in America. “As income inequality increases, poverty becomes less responsive to overall growth because too little of that growth reaches individuals and families at the lower end of the income scale” (Michel, Bivens, Gould and Shierholz, 2012, p. 419). This trend is just as Marx predicted—the private ownership of the means of production would inevitably result in a concentration of economic power in the hands of the capitalistic elite, while the poor continue to loose their human rights and grovel for minimum wage jobs that offer no security or benefits.

This is all to evident in the larger social trend that Sociologist refer to as the Middle Class Slide, which explains the worsening inequality between the elite 1 percent of super-rich Americans and the rest of the U.S. populace. The once-dominant middle class is struggling to hold onto descent careers and slipping security. A study released by the Pew Research Center highlights diminished hopes for the roughly 50 percent of adults defined as middle class, with household incomes ranging from $39,000 to $118,000. The report describes this group as suffering its "worst decade in modern history," having fallen backward in income for the first time since the end of World War II (Pew Research, 2012, p.45).  According to Pew Research Center “Three years after the recession technically ended, middle-class Americans are still feeling the economic pinch, with most saying they have been forced to reduce spending in the past year. And fewer now believe that hard work will allow them to get ahead in life. Families are now more likely to say their children's economic future will be the same or worse than their own” (Pew Research, 2012, p. 45).

As Karl Marx revealed in the early 1800’s, capitalism needs a workforce that will perform its dangerous work and carry out its menial tasks. People living in poverty often have to perform these menial task and minimum wage service industry jobs just to survive. And a disproportionate number of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and poor white people are on the front lines in fighting America’s wars.  What is even more tragic is the way we treat Mexican immigrants.  While right-wing American politicians rail against illegal Mexican migrants and propose a border barrier fence costing billions of dollars for ‘security’, these same migrants do the dirty and dangerous jobs that others refuse. 

            As noted by several social researchers in The State of Working America, “Poverty is even higher among certain demographic groups. “In 2010, the poverty rates of Hispanics (26.6 percent) and of African Americans (27.4 percent) were more than two and half times the poverty rate of whites (9.9 percent). Minority children fared even worse: In 2010, close to half (45.8 percent) of young black children (under age 6) were in poverty, compared with 14.5 percent of white children (Michel, Bivens, Gould and Shierholz, 2012, p. 419).

The connection between poverty, racism and social policy was clearly revealed by Leslie Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow.  She shows how institutional discrimination against African American’s is alive and well as we see large percentages of African American men and women incarcerated in the prison system.  Leslie writes, “An extraordinary percentage of black men in the United States are legally barred from voting today, just as they have been throughout most of American history. They are also subject to legalized discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service, just as their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents once were” (2007, p. 16).  Leslie claims that the Drug War is the New Jim Crow in America, as it has greatly exacerbated incarceration rates, not to mention the number of African American’s with Felonies hanging over their head.  Having felony makes it nearly impossible to find a job and get social services when they get out of prison. Leslie reveals that the discrimination that is happening today is a different form of racial caste in America—it isn’t the blatent forms of discrimination of the past; rather, it is a more subversive form that is more difficult to put your finger on.  

What is even more troubling about social inequality and the exploitation of the poor is the ways in which poor people are often used as scapegoats for societal ills.  Not only have poor people been dealt a bad had in life, they have to deal with the negative stigma and shame that comes along with receiving social welfare. Jason DeParle clearly reveals this stigma in his book The American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare.  This quote by De Parle clearly sums up the double edge sword of social welfare--“It offers the needy to little to live on and despises them for taking it” (DeParle, 2004, p. 91).

De Parle shows how this negative stigma is reflected in a long history of conservative politicians who have falsely blamed government deficits on the high cost of social welfare programs that were needed because poor people were too lazy to work.  And a large percentage of the poor consist of women, children and minorities who have been oppressed for many generations as a result of institutionalized discrimination.  I recall an astonishing quote by DeParle regarding the relatively low cost of welfare on the total federal budget, he writes, “Even when it’s federal costs peaked at 16 billion a year, AFDC accounted for only about 1 percent of the total federal budget. That was nothing like the $477 billion the country on Social Security and Medicare” (2004, p. 92).  And when you consider how much of the federal budget goes to military expenses and subsidies, the cost of AFDC is minor in comparison.

De Parle also demystifies this illusion of “laziness” as he documents the lives of several African American women in poverty as well as the generations that came before them.  He clearly shows that all the women worked at various times in their life because they couldn’t afford to live on welfare alone. And when they were required to train for a job in the Welfare to Work Program, the jobs that were offered them were minimum wage service industry jobs with no benefits.  

De Parle reveals the ways in which the system of welfare clearly failed to solve the problem of poverty, he writes, “Even as benefits peaked in 1972, the average package of cash and food stamps left a mother with two children in poverty, and over the next two decades, the value of the typical check fell more than 40 percent. Despite some offsetting growth in food stamps, by 1992 the average package of cash and stamps came to just $7,600 a year, nearly $4,000 below the poverty threshold—hence the need for boyfriends and off-the-books work” (2004, 92).  Not only did these women have to bend the rules in order to survive, they had to take several minimum wage jobs in order to survive on welfare. 

Policy Solutions to Poverty:

The U.S. social welfare state is a complex mix of programs, policies, and services.   There are many different approaches to combat poverty such as the curative approach, the alleviative approach (public assistance programs) and the preventative approach (Social Security).  The policies that emerged during Lewis’s day tended to take a more conservative, curative approach, which was hostile towards social welfare.  The curative approach aimed to end chronic and persistent poverty by helping the poor to become self- supporting through rehabilitative changes in their personal lives, such as assisting the poor into employment (Karger and Stoesz, 2010).

Undergirding the conservative agenda in the 1960s and 1970s was a pervasive belief that if you worked hard enough, you would inevitably rise in social mobility. Those driven by the powerful American spirit of competiveness saw the inability of the poor to compete as a serious character flaw (this attitude is still pervasive even today).  As a result, there is a considerable amount of hostility towards public assistance, not to mention many negative myths about it. 

Some of the policies and programs that emerged as a result of a more liberal agenda were Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which would later become Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).  According to Karger and Stoesz “Originally called Aid to Dependant Children (ADC), the AFDC program was part of the Social Security Act of 1935 and was designed to provide support for children by dispensing aid to their mothers” (2010, p. 281).   However, it is clear that these social welfare programs were merely Band-Aid solutions that attempted to ease the suffering of the poor rather than ameliorate the causes of poverty.

A number of studies have revealed the ways in which social welfare has been cut over the years despite the rising tide of poverty in the United States and globally.  Some of the Social Policies that have emerged as a result of a conflict theorist perspective have attempted to further increase the safety net for the poor, but they have yet to fully implement a Marxian solution to social problems and poverty.  The policies that have emerged are based on a liberal perspective as opposed to a truly conflict theorist perspective or a social democratic perspective, which is what the majority of European countries have moved towards.

The social safety net, namely Social Security, unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), have prevented more devastating outcomes for poor people.  “The safety net in the United States has become weaker over time, and workers at the bottom end rely more heavily on wages and a strong economy to make ends meet. Unemployment insurance is particularly vital to countering increases in poverty in bad economic times. In 2010, unemployment insurance kept 900,000 children and 2.3 million non-elderly adults out of poverty even though one or more workers in these vulnerable households were laid off” (Michel, Bivens, Gould and Shierholz, 2012, p. 419).

Aside from policies, a Marxian perspective has been a catalyst for a number of social movements and policies, such as Affirmative Action and the Living Wage Movement, which is geared to produce living wages for Americans by raising minimum wage to the current cost of living.  Very recently, President Obama expressed that he has plans to address the growing social inequality. The ominous gap between the privileged elite and the majority of Americans was the chief focus of President Obama's State of the Union address.  Obama said, "Those at the top have never done better, but average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone to get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all. So our job is to reverse these trends" (Gazette, 2014, editorial section).

President Obama outlined a series of goals to provide more opportunity for average families in years to come such as; expand college access, raise the minimum wage, boost pre-school for 4-year-olds, increase job training, extend unemployment support, change tax laws to reward corporations that bring jobs back to America rather than ship them overseas, guarantee equal pay for women, etc. In addition, the president said he would act on his own, without Congress, to set a $10.10 minimum wage for workers performing federal contracts, and also create new U.S. savings bonds for Americans who lack pensions from jobs (Gazette, 2014, editorial).

We know that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans take home nearly 20 percent of our nations total household income -- representing a kind of inequality that is truly staggering. Addressing this inequality is at the heart of the many strides that have been made over the years by the Obama Administration--The Children's Health Insurance Program, the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Medicaid.  All of these programs were created and strengthened by compassionate progressive liberals who understand the structural root of poverty and social problems.  And while all these proposed policy changes are great, progressive liberals and radical humanitarians have their hands tied due to the corruption of our government, the demise of democracy, and corporate greed.  It has been extremely difficult to improve social programs because the wealthy elite clearly doesn’t want to pay more taxes, despite the fact that American’s pay the lowest taxes out of any other country.  

 Compare and Contrast:

The debate among theorists is primarily divided between advocates who support cultural/behavioral arguments and those who support structural/economic arguments. This debate tends to manifest itself across political party lines with republicans supporting the cultural/behavioral thesis and democrats looking more to structural causes. These two theoretical lenses are analyzing the same problem, but from a different lens. They both acknowledge the ways in which poverty continues to manifest inter-generationally and needs to be solved.   However, they differ in the ways they would go about solving poverty.

Having had grown up in poverty, I deeply understand the inculcation of “poverty consciousness” and internalized oppression.  The learned behaviors and normalization of scarcity thinking, substance abuse, and non-conformist values definitely occurs amongst the poor. These learned behaviors inevitably shape one’s values, beliefs and behaviors, but they don’t necessarily have to determine one’s fate.  A critique of both social constructionism and conflict theory is that they both tend to be deterministic and gloss over the transformative power of human agency to break out of the forces of social programming.   I would also have to say that the culture of poverty is a superficial answer to a deeply complex problem, whereas conflict theorist’s offer a much more radical solution, perhaps one that we are not ready to fully receive as a result of fear. We have yet to see a truly Marxist solution to poverty, but I think it is inevitable as we face growing social inequality and class conflict.

We are facing a major crisis in every social institution, and that doesn’t include the environmental crisis looming over our heads as a result of global capitalism. Republicans, who chiefly serve the wealthy, probably will continue opposing efforts to aid ordinary families. Since the GOP controls the House of Representatives, it has power to block many reforms. But it is important to remember this: The 1 percent can cast only 1 percent of votes. It is my deepest hope that the other 99 percent of Americans back truly progressive candidates who will strive to reverse the ugly spread between the elite and the rest.  Unfortunately, finding a way to bring the 99% together on a number of pressing social and environmental issues is going to be a difficult task.  We are a conquered people because we have internalized the false notion of competition. And we wouldn’t dare begin to champion values of cooperation and egalitarianism because God forbid those are “socialist values” and we wouldn’t want to have to admit that perhaps Karl Marx was right after all.

I have said this before and I will say it again, what we need is a massive radical humanitarian movement—a new structural social work that transforms society from the inside out.  It is not going to come from any politicians. On the contrary, it will come from the people waking up to the lies that they have been fed by policy makers and greedy capitalists. According to one of my social work heroes, Bob Mullaly, social work ideology has much more in common with the socialist paradigms than it does with the capitalist paradigms (2007). Mullaly writes “If social workers truly believe in the values and ideas they espouse, then they cannot subscribe to and try to maintain a social order that contradicts and violates these same values and ideals (2007, p. 206).  The time is NOW for social workers to unite for change.  We simply can’t sit on our laurels anymore; we must do everything that we can to speak out for social change. 

 

 References:

Alexander, Michelle. (2007).  The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarcerations in the Age of Color Blindness.  The New Press, New York and London.

DeParle, Jason. (2004). American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive to End Welfare.  Penguin Group, London, England.

Karger, Howard, Stoesz, David. (2010). American Social Welfare Policy: A Pluralist Approach. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.

Mishel Lawrence, Bivens Josh, Gould Elise, Shierholz Heidi. (2012). The State Of Working America, 12th Edition. Cornell University Press, New York.

Mullaly, Bob. (2007). The New Structural Social Work.  Oxford University Press, Ontario, Canada.

Parrillo, Vincent. (2000).  Strangers To These Shores: Race and Ethnic Relations in the United States. Allyn And Bacon, Massachusettes.

Pew Research Center. (2012).  “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class.”

Social and Demographic trends. Retrieved from:

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/08/22/the-lost-decade-of-the-middle-class/

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Local Author Honored in 2019 Indie Book Awards

Feminine Mysticism in Art by Ashland resident Victoria Christian has been named by the Independent Book Publishing Professionals Group as one of the best indie books of 2019.

 Victoria’s book is the winner of the Spirituality category in the 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the world’s largest not-for-profit book awards program for independent publishers and self-published authors.

 The awards are judged by leaders of the indie book publishing industry, including many with long careers at major publishing houses. Their love of a great read and experience in the publishing arena identify books deserving a wider audience.

 2019 is the 12th year of the not-for-profit book awards program.

 Catherine Goulet, Co-Chair of the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, proudly said, "Our program has become known as the Sundance of the book publishing world." Sundance is the famed independent film festival which is now described on its website as “the ultimate gathering of original storytellers and audiences seeking new voices and fresh perspectives.”

 In an article at CNN.com titled If it’s cool, creative, and different, it’s indie, journalist Catherine Andrews wrote: “The term ‘indie’ traditionally refers to independent art – music, film, literature or anything that fits under the broad banner of culture – created outside of the mainstream and without corporate financing.” That definition remains true for book publishing.

 Independent book publishing companies are independent of the major conglomerates dominating the book publishing industry. Indies include small presses, larger independent publishers, university presses, e-book publishers, and self-published authors.

 According to Goulet, “Like other independent artists, many indie book publishers face challenges that the industry giants don't experience. The indies have to work much harder to get their best books into readers’ hands.”

 “Authors and publishers who compete in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards are serious about promoting their books,” added Goulet. “They aim to stand out from the crowd of millions of books in print.”

 According to an October 2018 report by Bowker, publisher of the Books in Print database, the number of self-published titles grew to 1,009,188 in 2017, an increase of 28% over the previous year, surpassing the million mark for the first time.

 The most recent statistics from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported more than 2.2 million books published worldwide in a single year. 

The Sexual Shadow of the World

In the past few years more and more women are having the courage to speak up about the trauma’s they have endured in their families, homes, churches, and work environments. And while it has been painful to see, it give me hope to see all the sexual shadow coming to the light for healing as it has been denied and buried for too long.

As a trauma specialist (clinical medical social worker) I have helped numerous women receive emotional support, validation, find safety, shelter, and receive the short and long term therapy they need to heal. I have had the honor of working with an amazing team of professionals—all of whom provide a highly effective wrap around service for woman and men in crisis or with histories of trauma.

It was important for me to include an article in Feminine Mysticism in Art about the history of women’s sexuality and the sexual shadow. I personally know several women who have been sexually traumatized to various degrees and I deeply understand the ways in which severe trauma changes people’s brains.

It is an honor to have several authors, medical visionaries, and sexual therapists who are experts in women’s sexuality and healing in Feminine Mysticism in Art. Because these issues are coming to the light for healing right now, I wanted to share an article written by Azra Bertrand and Seren Bertrand called The Sexual Shadow of the World. We also have another article that is just as amazing by Linda Savage PhD, Reclaiming Women’s Sexuality.

The Sexual Shadow of the World

 The truth is, there is a hidden epidemic of sexual abuse in our world – that is eating away at our communities, destroying the heart of humanity, and ravaging our planet. We can no longer afford to look the other way or turn a blind eye. The recent sexual abuse scandals involving Harvey Weinstein in America, Jimmy Savile in the UK, and in the Catholic Church across the world, are part of a greater cultural apocalypse – a feminine root word which means ‘unveiling what is hidden’. We are finally seeing the hidden rot behind the false surface image of our culture. And before we point fingers of blame and shame ‘out there’ – we must know that this unveiling is gathering pace in every sector, every industry, and even in the family home.

 These revelations teach us one lesson about the reality of sexual abuse, one thing we must understand if we want to heal and rebirth our world: most rape and sexual abuse is denied, hidden, repressed, unrecognized and unreported. What we see is only the tip of the iceberg. If we want to know the truth we must look deeper, we must be prepared to face one of the longest, darkest shadows of the world.

 The scandals also teach us that a few brave individuals who break the spell of silence, who speak up and challenge the businesses, churches, gurus, media organizations, legal structures, health care systems, and family members who are complicit in the culture of denial – can create a new culture of truth and transparency that leads to tremendous healing. Our voices and our truth, especially when we come together, create change powerfully and quickly. This is the way our world will heal.

 5,000 Years of Rape Consciousness

 It is important to note that the mass collective culture of rape consciousness is not new, but has dominated the planet for thousands of years. In past eras, it was not even a taboo, as some women, and young girls and boys, were openly used by male power holders, including priesthoods, state rulers, politicians and family members, as if they were objects. These are the ancestral legacies still living on inside us.

 Overt, culturally sanctioned sexual abuse still happens in many cultures of the world, but in others – such as the western world – the essence remains hidden from sight, repressed and kept as a forbidden secret. No wonder we feel an immense sense of cognitive dissonance in our lives. On the surface we are told one story, of caring families, caring leaders, caring organizations. Underneath is a completely different story, held in deep shadow.

 We live in a tumultuous, difficult, yet important time in history in which the shadow is being revealed. Rather than a charming politician with slick wordspeak, our current epoch gives us an elected president of the United States who publically condones “grabbing ‘em [women] by the pussy.” [1] The air is thick with the stench of sexual predation and dehumanizing rhetoric. Actors cavalierly say in public they love their job as they get to “rape beautiful women.” [2]

 Sexual Abuse & Mental Health

 The same tidal wave of unveiling and revelations will soon sweep the mental and physical healthcare fields, which, at the moment, are still choosing to stay in denial of the true scope of the problem. When this happens, there will be a complete revolution in the way we look at health – and the impact of these trauma legacies.

 Based on my twenty years experience as medical doctor, healer, researcher and community leader, working with more than 25,000 people, I have come to a very controversial, but sadly very real conclusion: sexual abuse is a huge, unacknowledged contributing factor in much of our physical and emotional illness.

 The truth is that childhood developmental trauma, including a startlingly high incidence of sexual abuse, is a contributing factor to both chronic somatic illness and to many psychiatric diagnoses listed in the DSM-V, the so-called “Bible” of the mental health fields. [3] This includes depression, anxiety, borderline personality, dissociative identity disorder, and many others. The more intensive the trauma, the longer its duration, and the younger the age at which it happened, the more severe and chronic the psychiatric condition will be.

 The same is true in chronic physical health conditions. Childhood traumas, referred to by researchers as “adverse childhood events”, including sexual abuse, account for a large percentage of physical illness, not just in childhood, but throughout our adult lives. A full account of this phenomenon deserves its own book, and indeed many good ones have now been written that detail the hundreds of medical studies supporting this conclusion (Scared Sick, by Robin Karr-Morse is one example).

Sexual Abuse Much More Common Than We Are Told

 Conservative and well-respected medical studies state that around 25% of girls and 18% of boys have experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. [4,5] But, it is widely known that these reported numbers do not represent the true amount of sexual abuse. The actual numbers are significantly higher than this

In 2014, the National Academies of Science stated, “sexual assaults are grossly underreported.” At least 80% of childhood sexual abuse goes unseen. [6] Beyond the issue of non-reporting, childhood sexual abuse is often not remembered, for a number of reasons. In many cases, childhood abuse is perceived as so frightening, overwhelming and shameful, that an instinctive, protective amnesia and dissociation kicks in, and the memories are immediately repressed and forgotten. Or children may be given sedative drugs, alcohol or over-the-counter cold medicine, which blur memory further, with events lost in the unknown recesses of the mind.

If sexual abuse occurs when children are young enough, typically under the age of four, they usually do not have the neurologic capacity to form clear conscious memories. The feelings remain, but they are encoded in body memories and vague states of upset or behavioral symptoms that are difficult to understand.

 In my clinical experience with women seeking healing for physical and/or emotional issues, the numbers are around 70% or greater who consciously remember sexual abuse, or who carry the symptomatic, behavioral and energetic signature of someone who has been exposed to sexual abuse, or who have this memory buried in their family history and lineage. The abuse can vary in intensity, from unwanted or inappropriate touch, voyeurism, leering, fondling, oral sex, penetration and beyond into the unthinkable. The more violent the incidents, the longer the duration, the closer the relationship of the perpetrator, and the more powerless the child feels to find support and safety, the more disruptive the outcome is to physical and emotional health.

 Sexual Abuse A Common Cause of Borderline Personality and Dissociative Identity Disorders

 Of all the mental health conditions, borderline personality and dissociative identity disorder, formerly “multiple personality disorder”, are the most closely linked with childhood sexual trauma (often compounded by other developmental traumas).  A 2016 study showed approximately 45% of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder had a known history of childhood sexual abuse. [7] An older study reports this number to be as high as 70%. [8] As shocking as these figures are, we know that they greatly underrepresent the actual percentages. Of course, not every case of borderline personality will involve sexual abuse, and many complex factors contribute to it, but we must explore this possibility, rather than ignore it.

 DID and Ritual and Network Abuse

 In dissociative identity disorder (DID), a condition in which multiple fragmented personalities are present in a person, a history of childhood trauma is nearly universal; it has been found in 97% of patients, with childhood sexual abuse found in as much as 90% of cases. [9,10,11] However, the patterns of sexual trauma in DID present an even darker and more disturbing picture. Psychotherapists report that 25-50% of their DID patients recover memories of systematic, ritual or network sexual abuse – abuse carried out by multiple people in an organized way. [12]

 Psychotherapy professionals who come forward to speak about the presence of network abuse in their patients and communities are generally disbelieved, mocked, humiliated, excluded from professional societies, and stonewalled from publication. Academic researchers who are professionally or personally invested in the climate of denial, or who are hired by the systems of abuse, have launched what has been called the “Memory Wars” – writing scientific papers that claim recovered abuse memories are a result of “false memory syndrome”, that these memories are not real.

 But, 60-80% of practicing clinicians, psychiatrists and therapists believe in the reality of trauma-repressed memories, especially in sexual abuse. [13] They are supported by new neurobiological studies and PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome) literature that proves the existence of repressed memories caused by emotional trauma, later recovered in a safe therapeutic setting. [14,15,16,17,18] It is now known that we can repress entire events or segments of time as a coping response to an emotional crisis.

 Creating New Paradigms of Support

 Because we live in a culture that is in such profound denial of the tremendous scale of sexual abuse currently happening on the planet, often, abused women do not receive support. Their traumatic pain has not been recognized, not held with love, not healed. Instead they have often been misdiagnosed, medicated or disbelieved.

 Many men are also playing out their repressed childhood sexual abuse wounds, sometimes as victims, but also at times becoming the perpetrator, unconsciously inflicting their sexual pain on a new generation of children. Crippled by the toxic shame they feel, and lacking the emotional tools and cultural support to heal, they can perpetuate the cycle of abuse. We sometimes forget that young boys are also vulnerable, and almost as many boys are sexually abused as girls. In the Catholic Church scandal, 80% of the victims were boys, mostly between the ages of 10 – 14. [19]

 Statistics of abuse for transgender women, women and families of color, and those in marginalized or low-income communities are also higher than national averages, and are compounded with complex cultural biases that hinder support.

 Protecting Women, Protecting Earth

 The magnitude of the consequences of sexual abuse are immense; not just personally, but collectively, culturally, financially, ecologically and spiritually. Anyone who has worked directly with women knows of the slow, painful, agonizing and courageous journey it takes to heal these wounds – how they are written in the body and the psyche, and how much time and energy it takes to reweave trust.

 And beyond this, the Womb and genitals of woman – the sacred sites targeted and attacked by sexual abuse – is also the portal through which our vibrational blueprint as a race is birthed, our ‘world womb’. A womb imprinted with pain, fear, and disconnection transmits this pain to the DNA of their future children, epigenetically modifying the expression of their genome – until these womb wounds are healed. [20]

 We are literally birthing a world of pain and suffering through hidden sexual abuse.

 The developmental trauma (chronic childhood emotional wounding, or “Complex-PTSD”) that is a result of this abuse epidemic, is at the root of much of the world’s suffering, costing us trillions of dollars per year in health care expenses and lost productivity, disconnecting us from earth, and costing us the lived integrity of our true soul self. We don’t feel safe in our bodies, in our culture, or in this world.

As the body of woman is raped, commodified, abused – so is the body of Mother Earth. We are raping the very energy source that created us and sustains us.

Protecting women is about more than “women’s rights” – it is about the very survival of our species. If we defile and destroy that which births us, we will soon die out.

This current crisis of sexual abuse is an incredible opportunity to make the shadow conscious, to speak out, to take action and to begin our healing journey together. Collectively, we are at a prophesized turning point. We have an amazing regenerative capacity within us, biologically, culturally and spiritually. Our experiences of the past do not need to define who we become. We can invoke a spontaneous, regenerative healing of our collective body, and return to balance.

 

By Azra Bertrand M.D. and Seren Bertrand, authors of the acclaimed book, Womb Awakening – Initiatory Wisdom From the Creatrix of All Life, as well as Sophia’s Return: Healing the Grail Wound, and Sacred Womb Rituals. They are founders of the worldwide Womb Awakening movement, and the Fountain of Life Womb Mystery School.  They hold annual in-depth Womb Awakening Apprenticeships, and share shamanic music on Sacred Sounds of the Womb, Elemental Awakening, and other albums. Visit www.thefountainoflife.org. Sophia’s Return, Seren’s personal story of healing from sexual abuse, is offered as a free ebook on the website: https://www.thefountainoflife.org/sophias-return-healing-grail-wound/

 

 Notes:

1."Transcript: Donald Trump’s Taped Comments About Women." The New York Times. Oct. 8, 2016. Accessed October 1, 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/us/donald-trump-tape-transcript.html

 2."Game of Thrones' star Jason Momoa joked about raping 'beautiful women' on show". The Guardian. October 13, 2017. Accessed October 13, 2017: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/oct/12/jason-momoa-game-of-thrones-raping-beautiful-women.

 3. Schizophrenia, autism, and some other conditions are more strongly associated with epigenetic and environmental insults before and during gestation than childhood trauma.

 4. Finkelhor, D. et al. “Sexual abuse in a national survey of adult men and women: Prevalence,characteristics, and risk factors.” Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal. 14(1), p. 19-28. (1990).

 5. Singh, M. M., et al. An Epidemiological Overview of Child Sexual Abuse. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 3(4), 430–435. (2014)

6. National Research Council. 2014. Estimating the Incidence of Rape and Sexual Assault. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/18605.

7. Menon, Preethi et al. “Childhood Sexual Abuse in Adult Patients with Borderline Personality Disorder.” Industrial Psychiatry Journal 25.1 (2016): 101–106. PMC. Web. 15 Oct. 2017.

 8. ibid.

 9. Chu, James A; Dill, Diana L. “Dissociative Symptoms in Relation to Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse.” The American Journal of Psychiatry; Washington147.7 (Jul 1990): 887-92

 10. Coons, P., et al. Confirmation of Childhood Abuse in Child and Adolescent Cases of Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. Aug 1, 1994.

 11. Vedat Sar, “Epidemiology of Dissociative Disorders: An Overview,” Epidemiology Research International, vol. 2011, Article ID 404538, 8 pages, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/404538

 12. Mulhern, S. “Satanism, Ritual Abuse, and Multiple Personality Disorder: A Sociohistorical Perspective. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis. 42(4),1994.

 13.Patihis, Lawrence. "Are the 'Memory Wars' Over? A Scientist-Practitioner Gap in Beliefs About Repressed Memory." Psychological Science. Vol 25, Issue 2, pp. 519 – 530.

 14.Anderson, MC, et al. "Neural systems underlying the suppression of unwanted memories." Science. 2004 Jan 9;303(5655):232-5.

 15.Trei, L. "Psychologists offer proof of brain’s ability to suppress memories." Stanford Report. Jan 8 2004. Accessed October 1 2017:  https://news.stanford.edu/news/2004/january14/memory-114.html

16.Elliott, D. M. Traumatic events: Prevalence and delayed recall in the general population. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 65, 811-820. (1997). UCLA Medical Center, Child Abuse Crisis Center, Torrance, CA.

 17.Sargant, W., et al. . Amnesic Syndromes in War. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, 34(12), 757-764. (1941, June).

 18.van der Hart, O., et al. Trauma-induced dissociative amnesia in World War I combat soldiers. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 33(1), 37-46. (1999, February). Department of Clinical Psychology and Health Psychology, Utrecht University, the Netherlands.

19. Cullen, K. “More than 80 percent of victims since 1950 were male, report says.” Boston Globe. 2/28/2004.

 20. Bertrand and Bertrand. Womb Awakening: Initiatory Wisdom of the Creatrix of All Life. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2017, 224-227.

 

More Thoughts on Hope, Existential Despair, Female Leadership, Social Rehabilitation, and the Hospicing of Humanity

A symptom of the global dark night of the soul is a complete shattering of hope.  There is also a complete shattering of the ego and future dreams. When I went through it in 2015 upon reading The Extinction Dialogues by Climate Scientist Guy McPherson and Carolyn Baker, perhaps the worst thing for me was the complete annihilation of hope.  I immediately wrote Andrew Harvey an email in complete despair and he was able to provide some guidance, but the evidence-based research was so undeniable and was just being released to the public. I could tell that he had so much uneasiness about being the bearer of bad news, but everyone feels this way that passes on the information.  Now that it has been verified by several climate scientists it is rapidly influencing a large number of people.  We all have to wake up to the facts…and yes, they will radically change you.  So please seek the support you need from a counselor or mentor who you resonate with.

 This doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to do our part in creating positive social change.  For this is the only thing that gets us up in the morning—knowing that we might be able to create some positive change. We need to continue to wake up every day with some certainty that we can make it thru the dark night.  The magic and joy is still very present on this earth and is resonating in all of our hearts.  All the love is present, but there is no doubt that people’s hearts are totally shut down right now.  People are also very distrustful of one another and for good reason. 

 Centuries of grievances against one another have served to stifle our ability to move forward.  There is a lot of important work in hospice social work, particularly around letting go, surrendering, and radical forgiveness. Hope is our lifeline that we need to get through the dark night and Great Spirit will be here to guide us in our journey. However, it is not wise to resort to a false sense of hope either.

 We have no clue what is going to happen and if there will be a New Golden Era on earth.  We are all very excited about implementing new utopian systems right now, but in some way this is a way of intellectualizing our negative emotions in order to avoid the pain associated with death.

 I have always been a deep believer that LOVE IS VICTORIOUS and the sacred feminine would save the world.   And while I consider my faith to be a lifeline, I am willing to sit in the void of the abyss and not have any answers.  Going through so many dark nights of the soul myself and helping hundreds of people through difficult transitions has enabled me to totally sit with the darkness in a way that most people run from.  I am ok with not having answers right now. I am ok with the world crumbling around me…at least for a second, until I start getting all freaked out again. 

 There are many layers to this dark night of the soul and it is important to take the grief in phases.  It is also important to seek help and support if you are isolating for too long.  We need to grieve alone, but we also need to grieve in community.

 Existential despair is the complete loss of faith that we will be able to transform and come out the other end and be reborn.  Considering the stark statistics of the 6th mass extinction of humanity and species on planet earth, it is incredibly difficult to be too optimistic that the earth will allow us to stay.  It has become clear that our way of life is not in alignment with Gaia’s natural rhythms.  The carrying capacity of the earth has been overridden long ago and if we were wise like the lemmings, we would have committed mass suicide by jumping off the cliff.  Instead, we keep procreating with the false assumption that the earth is abundant.  She is abundant to a point, but when we cross her boundaries, there is massive debt to pay.

 In our rationally oriented culture, we are socialized to avoid the emotions, particularly negative emotions.  As a result, there is a tendency to avoid the sting of grief by numbing out, repressing, abusing substances. We have individually and collectively been running from our monsters and shadow reflections, but it has taken a tremendous toll on our souls. And while the dark night of the soul is terrifying, it has some powerful lessons for us if we will just sit and listen.

 Great Spirit and the dark mother are incredibly wise, but one has to be willing to receive her guidance.  And if we are running amuck in our terror and anxiety, we will be too frazzled and fragmented to listen.  Which is why it is critical right now to do mindfulness meditation and deep breathing every day.  We are also obsessive planners living in a left-brain world.  We are taught to solve problems right away as opposed to sitting and listening for guidance from our soul or higher selves. Spend as much time as you can in nature as it is scientifically proven that Earthing helps ground out and purify our electrical body. However, one must be directly touching the surface of the earth.

 Some Thoughts on Female Leadership:

 It has been amazing to watch the tidal wave of awakening on a global scale of the Divine Feminine. I only want it to get stronger as it is so needed right now.  I support all women who are rising to do what they can to make change happen.  And while the feminine is rising and taking charge, I have sadly come to witness the deep feminine wounding that has divided women, particularly in regards agreeing on how social change needs to take place.  There is sadly an incredibly amount of competition between women that I have witnessed first hand. I have a lot of compassion for these deep wounds, but not all women are committed to really doing the self-examination and healing work to integrate and move on.  Some of them are also unconsciously acting out their need to be in an authority position, which is concerning to me.

 In addition, women’s spirits have been greatly affected by the lack of compassion of President Trump.  He has done more damage to the women’s psyches than any president in the history of America.  As a home health medical social worker I have witnessed and held space for hundreds of tragic stories of abuse and the internalization of oppression, which has led to a silencing of women’s voices.  And I have personally lived this oppression as a woman who didn’t grow up in a privileged family and social class.  I have worked more pink-collar jobs than most women have; thus, I have a deep understanding and compassion for the deeply entrenched psychological slavery that happens to women who have been socially oppressed for years.   

This kind of internalization of multigenerational trauma doesn’t go away as easily as people assume. Those who have not been educated in trauma informed care and family systems theory most likely underestimate and minimize the neurological changes in the brain that can occur with extreme trauma victims.  However, neuroscience is now revealing the incredible examples of healing of the brain over time. (see the Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Dodge, M.D.

 My mother was a single mother with 3 children who had to support them in an economically oppressed economy of Southern Oregon.  She was fortunate to have Jimmy Carter as a president in the 1970’s as he had some incredible social service programs for Mother’s on welfare.  It was called the CEDA program and my mother was trained to be a court reporter, which literally kept us from being in poverty long term. My biological father was a beautiful poet and humanitarian that didn’t make it through the sixties due to low self-esteem, substance abuse, and mental illness. Watching my father struggle on social security disability opened my eyes at an early age to the social oppression of mentally ill folks and the negative stigma that they have to live with their entire lives. 

 It was impossible for my father to live off his social security stipend of $700 per month, which is what thousands of our disabled folks are supposed to live off these days.  And to make matters worse, there is a massive shortage of low income housing for the mentally ill and physically disabled folks, they end up on the streets and are high risks for suicide.  

 Perhaps one of the most tragic thing is witnessing how our medical system poorly handle these incredibly fragile people.  A lot of these mentally ill have multiple health problems and end of in the emergency room or TuNorth .   However, it is too costly for the hospitals to shelter them for long periods of time; thus, they are discharged to temporary hotel rooms or a homeless shelter where they are back on the streets and then two weeks later back in the hospital. 

 This is our current solution—called the Revolving Door solution— to dealing with the chronically mentally ill and homeless situation not just in southern Oregon, but nationally.   I am the person that helps these people when they are discharged in addition to other social service agencies such as Columbia Care Intensive Case Management Program.

  It is obvious that women are starting to assume powerful leadership roles, which is a good sign. I think more female leaders will be rising in the near future; however, we need leaders who are also good team players and have a deep understanding of the complexity of global social problems and various theories of social change (which includes an understanding of the critiques that have been made by knowledgeable social theorists who might know a lot more about social systems then they do).  I have witnessed a lot of women try to assume leadership roles at a young age and they lack the experiential wisdom needed to make balanced decisions, which includes an openness to seeking out positions that may differ from their own. 

I have also witness women overestimate their experience level—they might be good talkers and presenters, but they lack experiential wisdom, which comes from years of experience working in the field. It also requires extensive critical self-evaluations and critiques from colleagues and supervisors.  There are plenty of women feeling called to a leadership role, which is great, but I am very particularly about the types of leaders and leadership qualities that I will require in a culture of social unrest. I am working on a short article about female leadership now and will share that in the near future.

 Community Networking and Bridging for Social Rehabilitation and Hospicing

 I have a very unique perspective as a Sociologist and Social worker who is currently working in the trenches of our community in Southern Oregon.

As a community Bridger and networker, I have been forming community alliances with numerous social service agencies that are very aware of the problems we are facing, but feel so overwhelmed due to massive funding cuts and the shock of the ecological crises.

They all agree that these problems have just continued to get worse over the years. For example, Access released information on their website, which was a research project done by the housing authority. In this study they found that Southern Oregon currently has a housing crisis. —There is a 1% occupancy rate right now, which is horrific.

Furthermore, Mr. Trump cut all the federal funding or grants for subsidized housing. The housing authority has known for a long time that low income, subsidized housing has been in shortage and that there is little incentive for contractors to take on these jobs because they don’t make enough profit. If they were subsidized properly, then there would be more incentive, as it is a lot of work.

Several organizations have worked on plans geared to help the homeless problem. For example, Access and The Housing Authority posted a plan on their website; however, they have not been very successful at implanting the plan for various reasons. Sacramento has blocks of tent cities for their homeless people, as they need a place to go and sleep. We should have implemented these years ago.

I have formed numerous treatment teams with community alliances to get people transitioned into shelter or affordable housing. I work with amazing people at Columbia Care who deeply understands the downward spiral of homelessness and how easy it is to get stuck there.

I am forming a team of social change agents called Southern Oregon Agents of Social Change. I have several powerful leaders in our community who are ready to start taking action to create rehabilitative systems for the current ecological and social crisis we have been facing for a long time now.

For more information about my credentials: www.guanyinhealingarts.com

 

 

The Global Dark Night of the Soul and/or The Apocalypse ? Should Hope be tossed out the window?

In this current time of social unrest, hope seems to be fading with each species that goes extinct. Upon reading and getting mentorship from several psychotherapist whom I respect and admire, most of them agree that our sense of hope for humanity will be shattered in the dark night of the soul. However, this does not mean that we can’t still give ourselves permission to feel joy. I have counseling numerous clients that are end of life and they experience a full range of emotions from complete despair to elated bliss and ecstacy. Thus, don’t let anyone fool you that you don’t have permission to feel hope and joy. However, you need to also be very weary of those who fall prey to “hopium”, which is a false sense of positivity in the midst of dire evidence based scientific research. I am very leary of overly optimistic people, particularly those who have never worked in the trenches of our communities and witnessed the dire reality of what is happening in people’s homes as a result of neoconservative values about humanitarian aid. I will be speaking up about theses issues as I am tired of being marginalized.

Carolyn baker believes that their will be people who choose to be in denial up to the very end. And we are sadly seeing this with our own president and numerous climate deniers in government. In some respects we have to expect that some people are simply too fragile, or, have a neurosis of keeping themselves insulated from the truth of an assortment of social problems, not just climate change.

Numerous social scientist, environmentalists, mystics, and new paradigm scientists agree that we are on the brink of the 6th mass extinction of humanity and millions of species due to global warming.  This is a human extinction, which is a result of a multitude of factors such as unregulated capitalism, rapid population growth, an insatiable appetite for materialism, frivolous conspicuous consumption, pollution and exploitation of the earth, rampant social problems due to social inequality and oppression, overconsumption of fishing, abhorrent wasting, greed, pride, vanity, narcissism, arrogance, denial, and long histories of war. 

According to Edward Edinger, who wrote a book titled Archetype of the Apocalyse, we are in the midst of a monumental cultural change that will end the world as we know it. This is the result of the increasingly powerful force of our collective unconscious, the Apocalypse archetype. This archetype manifests itself through various signs: the drama of international relations, the breakdown of social structure, and the widening gap between political, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic groups, in science fiction and New Age books, TV, and movies. The public's preoccupation with natural disasters and the rise of religious cults and survivalist sects are other indicators.

 We are now in the midst of a massive global dark night of the soul that is evoking massive social upheaval and changes in our deeply held values and beliefs. For example, our deeply held societal values of progress and growth have been under scrutiny for a long time now, particularly with postmodern sociologists and environmentalists.

The radical changes are also invoking trauma associated dissociation.  Some of these behavioral symptoms include; cognitive fragmentation of the psyche, memory loss, insomnia, anxiety, depression, forgetfulness, and amnesia. These dark night of the soul symptoms will not only drastically affect our personal lives, but our work places, families, and communities.  

It is time to remove the blinders of collective denial and come to the horrific understanding that we need to shift into a mode of “hospicing of humanity.”   

Climate Scientist Guy McPherson and Carolyn Baker PHD (Psychotherapist) released a book in 2015 called The Extinction Dialogues: How to Live With Death in Mind.  I ordered this book hot off the press in 2015 and my life was forever changed. No one who truly reads this book will ever be the same afterward.  I was just finished up graduate school at Portland State University and was vulnerable financially and living alone. I felt completely isolated and had to endure dark night of the soul symptoms pretty much by myself. I had anxiety attacks at night a few times and had to seek support from mentors.

The global dark night of the soul is inevitably going to bring up an assortment of negative emotions such as existential despair, grief, hopelessness, rage, anger, and suicidal ideation. Tragically, we are already witnessing suicide rates increase on a daily basis in Southern Oregon, all of which has been on the local news stations. And larger social trends reveal higher rates of teenage suicide in the United States.  

A few years ago, the Medford mail tribune published an article on the front cover purporting that population demographers have estimated that the population of Southern Oregon is going to double in the next five years. However, we are clearly not prepared for this massive influx of people.  Southern Oregon has massive social problems that sociologists and social service organization have been known about for over twenties years and still have not been solved—such as, the dire shortage in low-income housing, the shortage of funding for people in crisis, the shortage of transitional housing, homeless shelters, the lack of living wage jobs, the lack of services for the mental ill, and the lack of services for addictions…..this is a short list of the longer list i have compiled.    

As a sociogist and social scientist, I have read social research that reveals that funding for social services is the lowest it has ever been, despite social needs being the highest (particularly among the poor and working poor.) This is mainly due to a neoconservative political agenda that wants to completely do away with social services and humanitarian aid. It is also the result of unregulated capitalism and the corruption of our democratic political system by the corporate elite. This exposure of the power elite was addressed in the 1970’s by a brilliant sociologist by the name of C Wright Mills (see book Power Elite).

Another social trend is the rising gap between the super wealthy 1 % of our population and the 45 million people who are in poverty in America. We have also been experiencing the larger social trend called the “middle class slide.” The overarching economic narrative is the idea that life for the middle class has grown more difficult due to inflation, rising fuel and food prices, falling house values, impending recession, and turmoil in the financial and mortgage markets.

For the past four years, I have been a home health medical social worker. I have a dual masters degree is Sociology and Social Work. I havebeen working in the trenches in Southern Oregon serving people with chronic diseases, physical disabilities, an assortment of mental illness, high rates of addiction to various substances, homelessness, unemployment, and social/economic oppression.

I have had the honor of working with several modern day heroes who quietly serve without any accolades or awards.  While numerous celebrities have been acknowledged for their generous humanitarian aid, these modern day heroes may not make a lot of money, but they are doing some of the most critical work in our communities of Southern, Oregon. I am excited to be recognized these true leaders in a TV episode I am working on for PBS.

 Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of these celebrities people for donating their money in times of great social need.  However, I find it ironic that some of the greatest American leaders and heroes work quietly in the trenches serving some of the most down and out folks. Our worshipping of famous people, or idolatry, is something that has completely repulsed me. This is just another example of how capitalism has completely distorted our evaluation of heroes. In America athletes that profess to be sex addicts are worshipped and considered modern day heroes, yet our caregivers (who are doing some of the most important work) not only get paid shit wages, but have to deal with the negative stigma of doing this kind of work.

I have seen it all folks……and I am appalled that our so-called conscious community has continued to sit on it’s laurels in regards to preparing for these tidal waves of social problems. We have had plenty of time to address these problem in Southern Oregon. I understand how deeply entrenched things are, but we have not allowed our true authentic leaders to speak in this community. I believe that I have a unique perspective on things and I empowering myself to speak up. I received a 3.7 in my undergraduate work at SOU, majoring in Sociology. I also received a 4.0 in my master of Sociology and NAU. I also worked my butt off doing minimum wage jobs to get me through a MSW degree at PSU, 3.8 GPA.

I worked a lot of back breaking minimum wage jobs growing up in Southern Oregon. I worked as a house cleaner , caregiver, Baker, waitress, landscaper, house painter, and even a dishwasher. And while these jobs built character, the negative stigma that pink collar workers are faced with can not only lower your self esteem, but cause deeply entrenched poverty consciousness and an undercurrent silencing that makes one feel small. And if someone works these kinds of jobs for a life-time, there is a continuum of mental health problems that can occur such as trauma, anxiety disorders, and health problems .

I pride myself on having the courage to work despite the shame I felt at times; however when you are in survival mode one has to do what they can in order to survive in southern Oregon

The author of this article, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an amazing book about the working poor called "Nickel and Dimed." As a journalist she decided to work several minimum wage jobs and write about the dehumanizing experiences she had.

I am always amazed by people that have never really had to work labor intensive jobs yet they judge others for working minimum wage jobs. They can often have an undercurrent judgment of poor people that is hard to detect, but I felt it all the time. I really get pissed off by the elitist attitudes that some people in Ashland hold for working class folks in medford and Ashland.

I worked really hard to receive an education so I could help oppressed people have a voice and get access to resources. I have massive student loan debt and am barely able to pay off my debt due to ridiculously low wages for social workers. I am currently on an income sensitive repayment program because their are few work places that offer the student load repayment plan for social workers that are helping low income and disadvantaged people.

In my evaluation of leaders— I want to know if they have done any social service work or volunteered to help the community in any way: have they had the courage to get out of the comfort of their own homes to help vulnerable and oppressed people or did social activism work. I am sick and tired of self proclaimed leaders that are so self absorbed and self righteous that they can’t get out of their own navels to do what they can to help.

I understand that there are many ways to serve but I am sadly disappointed at how few people do service work.

The current state of our communities in Southern Oregon are completely fractured and fragmented.  People are totally traumatized and deeply wounded by unregulated capitalism, social isolation, social oppression, and social stratification. We are more divided than we have ever been due to religious exclusivism and rampant competition.

 MORE TO COME>>>>>>>

 

ECOFEMINIST ART BOOK WINS GOLD MEDAL, SPIRITUALITY CATEGORY, INDIE BOOK AWARD

Beloved Community! We are thrilled to announce that Feminine Mysticism in Art: Artists Envisioning the Divine recently won another book award.  We just found out yesterday that is won a gold medal in the Spirituality category, Indie Book Award (in addition to a silver nautilus award in photography and art).  This is a TREMENDOUS recognition for many hours (12 years) of devotional service from all of our contributors. These people have merged their creative and spiritual missions for the benefit of the Earth Gaia and the deep spiritual healing of individuals and the macro social systems. 

This book is SO much more than an art book-- it has a powerful spiritual and socio-political message for our current ecological and social crisis. IT IS THE ULTIMATE CALLING OF SACRED ACTIVISM --THE MERGING OF OVER 70 POWERFUL VOICES (mystics, scholars, artists, and musicians). It is a sacred offering to the world at this critical time--a beacon of light to guide you through the global dark night of the soul. It IS the feminine light in the dark night of the soul.   This is not some "pie in the sky" new age rhetoric divorced from real sociological issues. On the contrary, this is VISIONARY REALISM--FIERCE RADICAL TRUTH. It was created with loving intentions for the conscious awakening of the planet, the healing of the Earth, and the global subjugation of the women and minorities.   

If you are interest in seeing the full list of award winners for the Nautilus Book Award and the Indie Book Award you can do so by clicking on the underlined links created on website above. 

We also wanted to announce that we are having a book release celebration and signing at Awake Cafe in Ashland Oregon this Sunday from 7-9 pm.   See facebookevent for more information.

FMA can be used as a scholarly book for courses in Women's Spirituality, Sociology, Transcendental Art and Psychology, MFA, Expressive Arts, Art Therapy, Mysticism, and New Paradigm Culture.  

If you have a spiritual book store, gallery, yoga center, museum, or healing arts center, this book would be a wise purchase as there simply isn't anything like it on the market right now. We are in the process of creating a new cover page with the awards embedded on it, but we would be happy to also send you some stickers if you have already purchased books. 

Please take some time and visit my author page on Amazon and consider purchasing this gorgeous 435 page, full color art book. 

Please also take some time to visit the books website, which has a gorgeous gallery of sample images, information about all the contributing visionary writers and artists, and a full summary of the book.  It also has information about the animated DVD, released in 2009.

Visit our beautiful and inspiring website at: www.mysticspiritart.com 

Five Issues Facing The Elderly:

Today, people are living much longer than ever before, leading us into uncharted waters. From 1946 through 1960, the United States experienced the Baby Boom years. Today, the earlier Baby Boomers are entering into retirement age. As a result, there will be an increase in the aging population, which will not only bring more job opportunities in the Gerontology field, but will also require massive changes to the Health Care Industry. With professional experience as a medical social worker and geriatric care manager, I am interested in learning more about the various needs of the elderly population, particularly the baby boom generation. My work experiences and observational study of senior citizens have sensitized me to several issues and challenges the elderly population faces; such as declining physical and mental health, financial vulnerability, housing, loneliness, and abuse.

Physical and mental health decline are major concerns that seniors have to contend with as they age. The human body is a system that wears out with long and repetitive use and the capacity to think, act, relate, and learn starts to falter and deteriorate.  Aging breeds illnesses such as memory loss, immobility, and organ failure, hearing loss and poor vision. Susan Levy, M.D. (2010) says “The Most widespread condition affecting those 65 and older is coronary heart disease, followed by stroke, cancer, pneumonia and the flu.  Accidents, especially falls that result in hip fractures, are also common in the elderly” (p. 1).

In my observational study of elders at an assisted living facility, there was a general tendency for the elders to be impatient, irritable and non-communicative.  This was most likely the result of physical pain or neurological and psychiatric problems, ranging from depression and anxiety disorders to Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating forms of dementia. Shekhar Saxena, (2010) head of the mental health department at the World Health Organization reports that “Within the next 18 years, the number of people, worldwide, suffering from dementia will likely double to 65.7 million and triple by 2050, due to people living longer.  The organization has determined that there are around 35.6 million sufferers today, costing over $600 billion a year for care and treatment” (p. 1).

Another issue facing senior citizens is financial vulnerability and the rising cost of medical care.  The financial dilemma is common among seniors who are no longer able to work.   However, a lack of financial capacity creates a stressful life and invites the entry of problems other than physical and mental health issues. While I will never know the financial status of the elderly people I observed, I do know that they are the lucky few who are able to afford assisted living, which can be quite expensive. It appears that my grandmother’s generation, or the elders I observed, are doing pretty well economically; however, the current health care system will not be able to handle the financial and medical needs of the baby boomer generation.  There will be a rise in health care needs as well as an increase in financial vulnerability with the baby boomer generation.

Housing is a major concern for the elderly. Most seniors would like to stay in their homes for as long as they can.  Reluctance to move is particularly true for those who own their own home. Some have the financial ability to afford caregivers, but others don’t.  Due to failing health and cognitive decline, elders may have to move in with a relative or consider an assisted living facility or nursing home.  However, the housing options don’t look very promising for a growing aging population.

As the overall population ages, the numbers of the most vulnerable will grow as well.  A new report from the Center for Housing Policy, Housing an Aging Population—Are we Prepared? claims that “By 2050 the 65+ population is expected to grow from 40 million today to more than 88 million; put another way, one in every five Americans will be 65+.”  Demand for housing will more than triple over the same period to 19 million” (2012: 3).   The report also found that older adults are more likely than younger adults to have housing affordability challenges.    As a result, the aging of the population is likely to increase the overall proportion of the country with severe housing cost burdens.  The report also finds that many older adults lack access to affordable services that could help them age in place.   Older adults with low and moderate incomes often lack access to various housing choices, such as an assisted living facility.

 Perhaps no other age group feels the sting of loneliness more than the elderly.  I have personally witnessed this in my profession and feel strongly that it leads to depression.  I think it is natural for elders to want to retreat as they age, but they also need encouragement to be socially engaged as much as they are able.  While individuals living alone tend to experience the most isolation, several activity directors have informed me that assisted living facilities have a difficult time getting the residents to be involved in various activities.  There is a natural tendency to isolate as a result of failing health, but there is still a need for one on one interaction with a human.

According to a new study by UCSF researchers (June, 2012), loneliness can cause suffering to people at any age, but it can be especially debilitating to older adults and many predict serious health problems and even death.  One of the more surprising findings of the teams analysis is that loneliness does not necessarily correlate with living alone. The UCSF study also found that people 60-years-old and older who reported feeling lonely saw a 45 percent increase in their risk for death. Isolated elders also had a 59 percent greater risk of mental and physical decline than their more social counterparts.

As the population of older Americans grows, so does the hidden problem of elder abuse, exploitation and neglect.   Elder abuse is the infliction of physical, emotional, or psychological harm on an older adult.  Elder abuse can also take the form of financial exploitation or neglect of an older adult by the caregiver.  In a report by The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study (1998), “Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect. Those statistics may not tell the whole story.  For every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts estimate that there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported” (p. 1).

Some older people are repeatedly abused, but even one incident of abuse can be traumatizing to the elderly person according to authors Carmel Bitondo Dyer, Marie-Therese Connolly, and Patricia McFeeley in Elder Mistreatment: Abuse Neglect and Exploitation in an Aging America.   The author’s say that even one incident of victimization can be potentially harmful and even fatal for an older person:

A single act of victimization can “tip-over” an otherwise productive, self-sufficient older person’s life.  In other words, because older victims usually have fewer support systems and reserves—physical, psychological, and economic—the impact of abuse and neglect is magnified, and a single incident of mistreatment is more likely to trigger a downward spiral leading to loss of independence, serious complicating illness, and even death (p. 339).

 An additional issue is that often older people who have been

abused or neglected do not wish to testify against their family members who have abused them, out of a misguided sense of loyalty, or of love. Fortunately, each state in the United States has an office of adult protective services to investigate the abuse or neglect of adults.  Interventions provided by Adult Protective Services include receiving reports of adult abuse, exploitation or neglect, investigating these reports, case planning, monitoring and evaluation.

                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A BIG THANKS TO ALL THE "EARTH ANGELS" WHO SUPPORTED FEMININE MYSTICISM IN ART

Acknowledgments

As a co-creative vision, this book involved the synthesis of many brilliant cultural creatives. First and foremost, I want to acknowledge my mother, Susan Stedman, for her wisdom and steadfast devotion to the project. Not only was she my confidant, she was also an enormous source of emotional support and a fastidious editor. I simply couldn’t have done this project without her. I would also like to acknowledge Michael Slavenski for believing in me and for his generous investment in the DVD. He literally gave me hope in the darkest hour and has been a monumental hero in my life and in the lives of so many others who know him.

A book like this, which is documenting a genre of visionary art, takes a considerable amount of time and devotion. This book took over twelve years to complete and went through many stages of evolution. I am most grateful to all of the artists for their unwavering patience and devotion. My soul was continually nourished by their precious art, music and writings, which hung on my walls, rotated through my altar and appeared on my computer screen. I am honored to have befriended several of the artists, not to mention having the opportunity to see their studios, original paintings and even watch them paint. I am in complete awe of all of their creative genius and learned so much from them.

I would particularly like to thank Mark Henson for all of his inspiration and support over the years. I consider Mark to be a crucial “hub” in the transcendental art movement. Not only has he done a lot of service work for the visionary art community, but for the last ten years he has organized one of the best visionary art shows in California called TheTransformational Art Show, which happens every year at the Harmony Festival in Santa Rosa. I was fortunate to show my art there, which allowed me to meet some of the best California visionary artists of our day. I also want to thank

Paul Heussenstamm for his savvy business advice and abundant perspective. And I am most indebted to Suzanne Deveuve, Andrew Annenberg, Theressa Sharrar, Leslie Gibbons, and Krista Lyn Brown for their friendship and emotional support.

One of the most fascinating things about the creative process is the mysterious unfolding of the journey and the synchronicities that occur along the way. There were indeed many mountains to climb and at times I felt completely lost in the woods, not knowing where to go next. To my surprise, an angel would appear. This project was literally done on a shoestring budget and I was fortunate to have a few angels who sponsored the project and me financially. I want to acknowledge Cory Jones, Kent Schoch, Tim Kohler and my favorite sociology professor, Kooros Mahmoudi. These men saw the social importance of this book and understood how much of a sacrifice I made in my life to make it happen.

I would also like to acknowledge Abba Yahuda and Brian Lloyd for assisting me financially in a time of great need. A new warrior brother by the name of Cliff Scheick saved the day on numerous occasions. Not only did he come into my life when I needed a friend, he sponsored the project with a computer and excellent business advice.

I would also like to thank an amazing angel by the name of Jerry Schneider. He mysteriously came into my life during a time of great need and commissioned me to do a painting for his mother. He also sponsored the project with a new Macintosh laptop, which came nearly a week after my computer died. Ironically he didn’t even know this had happened.

And in conclusion I want to thank all the people who helped me with editing: Greg Marchese, Ian Luepker, Matt Fawcett and Eric Alan. And also the gang at White Cloud Press—Gary, Steve and Steve Scholl—for all of their excellent advice and for believing in the project from the beginning.

Last but not least, I should acknowledge Dave Emrich and Kelly Harding whose book design so fully realized my original vision of text and images.And in the last hour, my beloved John Grimshaw helped with editorial revisions and design work, not to mention emotional support when I had nothing left to cross the finish line.

Press Release: Local Author Earns Nautilus Book Award

The Anthology, featuring over 65 Visionary Artists and Writers is an Amazon Top Seller

Ashland, Oregon, April 22nd 2019 – After ten years of devotion and dedication, Victoria Christian --Author, Transpersonal Psychologist, Sociologist, and Artist-- published an Anthology of Visionary Art and Writings entitled "Feminine Mysticism in Art: Artists Envisioning the Divine." It is a 2018 Silver Nautilus Award Winner in the category of Photography and Art. The book is self-published by Victoria's Independent Publishing Co.--Awakening Soul Wisdom. Victoria is the head editor and contributing writer/artist. She wrote 1/3 of the book and her mother, Susan, is the copyeditor. The book was released 11- 2018.

 "This book is an incredibly unique and powerful book as it reveals contemporary sacred iconography of the Divine Feminine and Primordial Sacred Union in various spiritual traditions", says Author Victoria Christian.  "And because it is a co-creative effort of 72 powerful voices, it has a tremendous impact both personally and collectively. It truly is the medicine for the world right now and has the potential to spark a massive tidal wave of awakening, which is needed right now in order to balance out the hyper-yang patriarchal systems of domination. However, this book is about equality of the sexes, and ultimately, a transcending out of socially constructed binary gender roles as we individually and collectively awaken to ONENESS."

 The book is available in Softback, Hardback and Kindle E-book, is printed and distributed by Ingram and is available on Amazon.com and other online bookstores internationally and through retail bookstores throughout the US and Canada.

 About Victoria Christian

Victoria Christian, M.A, M.S.W is an author, transpersonal psychologist, sociologist, artist, and sacred activist. She holds a Masters of Social Work from Portland State University and a Masters of Sociology from Northern Arizona University.  For more information about the book see the website: www.awakeningsoulwisdom.com. Victoria counseling website, Guanyin Healing Arts can be viewed at: www.guanyinhealingarts.com

 About the Nautilus Book Awards:

During the past 20 years, this unique book award program has continued to gain prestige with authors and publishers around the world as it seeks, honors, celebrates and promotes print books that inspire and connect our lives as individuals, communities, and global citizens.

nautilusbookawards.com

Gloria Orenstein's "Forward" for Feminine Mysticism in Art

Forward

Gloria F. Orenstein

Prof. Emerita Comparative Literature

And Gender Studies

Univ. of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA.

 

            It is my privilege to open the portal for your first glimpse of “Feminine Mysticism in Art.” As we step over the threshold into the universe of this amazing collection of works by women and men from diverse backgrounds, we must be cautious in thinking that we have seen this all before from the seventies Goddess art movement and from Ecofeminism as it developed through the nineties and into the new millennium. What you will find here is an enlarged, more inclusive, and more evolved interpretation of Goddess art for the twenty-first century.  Having written about the earlier Goddess art movement in a book titled The Reflowering of the Goddess, I am stunned by how rapidly and organically this new movement has sprung forth from the seeds planted by the feminist “Goddess artists” of the ‘second wave’ and, more importantly, how the visionary aspect of this art literally transports the viewer to expanded states of consciousness. I feel extremely honored to present this expanded vision of Goddess art to you as a potent legacy of the evolving revolutionary scholarship and creativity of today’s Feminist/Feminine  mystical movement in art.

I want to begin by reflecting upon Goddess art in the context of its early beginnings back in the late sixties and early seventies, and continuing on through the nineties.  In those days, when I taught Women’s Studies (now known as Gender Studies) my students had one question that came to be the bottom line of our inquiry. What my students wanted to know most of all was whether there had ever been a civilization, a culture, or a society that was non-patriarchal.   Had there ever been one in which the gender of the deity was female rather than male? (Here the inquiry was focused on western civilization).  While there have been examples of cultures that were matrilineal and matrifocal, our search to uncover examples of a bonafide matriarchy or of a religion in which God was a female proved extremely daunting until, to cite an important landmark in our quest “WHEN GOD WAS A WOMAN” by Merlin Stone was published and filled us in on the history and mythology as well as the REALITY of centuries of Goddess-centered civilization.  She informed us of how thousands of years of the history of pre-patriarchal civilization had been omitted from all books and courses on history and art in the western canon. As Merlin taught us, when one image of The Venus of Willendorf was found in an art history book, we were told that it represented a Goddess cult, suggesting that one image sufficed to represent such a minority’s beliefs. 

Merlin Stone’s revolutionary findings, having poured through the anthropological and religious texts as well as the archeological logs that the general public would never see, led her to conclude that the plethora of Goddess images from a variety of pre-patriarchal cultures suggested the existence of a widespread and long-lasting Goddess centered civilization, not a cult, that preceded the historical erasure of the pre-existing Goddess religion.  Soon after that, Marija Gimbutas’ multiple volumes of archeological scholarship covering the Language of the Goddess, and the myths of the Goddess reinforced our understanding of this civilization that had lasted for millennia.  According to Gimbutas, it was gender egalitarian, peace-loving, reverent of the natural world, and devoted to the spiritual source of the Creatrix.

        The early Goddess art movement was known for the works created by women artists; such as Mary Beth Edelson, Ana Mendieta, Betsy Damon, Judy Baca, Judy Chicago, Bettye Saar,  Monica Sjoo, Afra-She Asungi and many others who made pilgrimages to ancient Goddess sites and sanctuaries, and enacted rituals and ceremonies at these places of power in order to experience what it might have felt like to participate in the rites of a woman living in a Goddess culture.  This movement focused on performances, rituals, and imagining the female self living within the context of the life of a Priestess or a wise woman healer from the ancient past, empowered by her status in a non-patriarchal society.   They sought to reclaim many of the ancient rites in revised forms, and introduce them into their present artistic and spiritual practices.

            A welcome revision of the second wave of Goddess art by its contemporaries is the inclusion of male artists and writers as a part of the Goddess art movement. We had just begun to become familiar with pro-feminist men, and now we are encountering Goddess-revering men who are also visionary artists. The most important transformation brought about here by both female and male artists is the creation of work from a spiritually evolved visionary state of consciousness.  These works often depict the energy pathways to spiritual evolution and union with Source through the chakra system as it aligns with the energies of the cosmos.  These new works often express a clairvoyant perception of energy currents in the body as well as indicating the paths the energy follows in diverse spiritual meditative journeys to enlightenment.  They raise important new questions and bring into focus themes that needed further elaboration such as the reclaiming of Shamanism as a direct path of revelation. 

            In addition, Goddess artists of the third wave are exploring the birth of a New World View of Sacred Activism.  They are interested in learning about the role played by sacred geometry in creation and manifestation. They are working to create new social systems such as the Gift Economy.  Many of the artists featured in this section of the book also have websites in which they connect with visionaries working in different fields in order to collaborate in the hastening of a major shift in culture and consciousness to take place, both on the spiritual plane as well as on the material level.  This shift on the material plane will involve the development of Permaculture, and Eco-housing. 

 It is empowering and inspiring to encounter the new works of these ecstatic, futurist visionaries, who are seeking to give birth to a new, purified, and ecologically sustainable culture.  Their communal vision is being energized by their networks, consciousness, art, meditations, and their newly evolved green technologies. For them, what used to be known as science fiction is a world whose magic is attainable through these new techniques of spiritual evolution as they are brought into practice here on Earth, and are used to bring about a loving relationship between all forms of sentient life in the universe.  I see the images of Radiant Woman and Radiant Man (p 366) by Jose Arguelles, (who had been involved in shamanic creativity and the evolution of consciousness since the beginning of the second wave Goddess art movement), as icons of the illumination and radiance emanating from the spiritually evolved humans of the future, fully engaged in the transformation of civilization.

        I am thankful to Victoria Christian whose art, hard work, dedication---whose labor of love it was to produce this book and to her mother Susan Stedman, whose insight and editing enabled the birthing process of a work that undoubtedly will continue to inspire re-vision and re-birth for many generations to come.    Now is the moment to step through the portal and begin the next phase of the journey. The Great Shift is upon us and it is clear that these visionaries have a lot to say about the evolution of feminine wisdom that will need to be absorbed into the fabric of our beings as it will inevitably bring humanity to a more harmonious and balanced place within ourselves and in the world at large.

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gre Mother Goddess and the integration of all aspects of her power into that of the Mother of all Life.    

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 sp spiritual practices.  While retrieving the ethos and mythos of cultures mostly excised from patriarchal history, and rediscovering the contributions of ancient Goddess-revering cultures to our knowledge in myriad areas, as I reflect upon that version of the Goddess

spirituality art movement from the perspective of this collection of works and essays,  I am honored to present this evolved vision of Goddess spirituality art with the many transformations and additions that it brings to light over the last few years in which it has  matured.

           The most obvious and for most I think welcome revision is the inclusion of male artists and writers as part of the Goddess art movement.  Indeed, for those of my generation, it is stunning to encounter men who are not only pro-feminist men, but who revere the Goddess and honor the vision of uniting the visible and the invisible the Earth and the spirit world through a new art that actually creates energy maps for spiritual evolution and enlightenment.  The major contribution of this new Goddess art movement is that it is born out of a different consciousness.  Here the emphasis is less on  discovery on sites in nature or from history, and more on discovery of states of consciousness and vision.  There is less of a need to excavate history to prove the reality of the past existence over millennia of the Civilization of the Goddess and more of a need to engage in a variety of prophetic visions of the future emergence of a world regenerated by the practices and values of the spirituality of the Goddess. This now foregrounds the ecological vision that was emerging in the previous Goddess art movement, and now takes center stage along with an understanding of the interrelatedness of spirit and matter via  the networks of energy that connect our energy bodies in quantum ways , often creating mysterious entrainments and attunements, with the energy bodies of non-human nature extending from ort planet to the entire universe—the galaxies and beyond. 

 

    

Revealing the Female Bias and the Shadow Side of the Goddess Movement

This is for those who are interested in a more in-depth analysis of the female bias and the shadow side of the Goddess Movement.

There is no doubt that there has been a male bias in the construction of Knowledge, however, the female bias might be more difficult to detect because women's voices have been so denied in the construction of knowledge.  However, as I offer my critiques on the female bias, I need to make something clear. 

I have ultimate respect and admiration for the courageous women in all disciplines who have carved out a path of emancipation for women of today. For this reason, I am hesitant to be too critical of the women's spirituality movement when it is still in its infancy.  When I reflect on the thousands of women who challenged patriarchal ideologies in much more severe conditions of oppression, I am instantly humbled. I envision warrior women with enormous swords, cutting away the thick forest of ideological oppression. Therefore, the critiques I have to offer the women's spirituality movement come not from ego and competitiveness, but rather from good intention and a commitment to make the movement stronger. 

 In my educational years as a Masters student of Sociology and Social Work and years of professional training as a counselor, the dynamics of the victim/victimizer relationship has always fascinated me because it is so evident in human relationships.  Yet, what I find so ironic is that each position sees the other as the source of its problems.  For example, women haven’t always been able to see the ways in which they've contributed to the dynamic system of human suffering because in pointing the finger at "the patriarchy" as the evil victimizer, they have assumed the position of the innocent victims. I am not denying the fact that men have used warfare and physical violence to dominate women.

On the contrary, I am merely making the point that there is a complex dynamic occurring here that reflects the dysfunctional role of the victim.  Women seem to know what "men's issues" are, but have we really owned our roles in the human drama? As humans who suffer from fragile egos women are just as likely to abuse their position of power if the tables are turned. Having had the experience of working under several power-tripping women, I'm convinced that women are equally capable of abusing their power and have the capacity to emotionally castrate a man with the glance of an eye. 

 I am cognizant of the diversity of feminist perspectives or "feminisms" within the women's movement as well as the varied perspectives within the neo-pagan and Wiccan groups and, therefore, I make no broad generalizations about any particular group.  Exposing the female bias is indeed a complex topic, with multiple layers and perspectives that deserve a thorough analysis. Unfortunately, I am not able to delve into the complexity of these issues in this article. As a sociologist who is aware of the dialectics model of social change, history reveals the tendency to go from one extreme to another, which in some respects can be considered a defense mechanism or reactionary survival instinct.  The pendulum needs to swing to the other side in order to find a place of balance. While feminism has been a powerful tool of emancipation for women, there is a tendency in radical feminist and some pagan groups to go to the other extreme; thus, falling prey to a "female bias."

 In the process of awakening to the Goddess, it has become evident to me that some people have gone from one extreme to the other--from father worship to strictly mother worship, without a true appreciation of consecrated polarity, or the sacred union (particularly for those who have been severely damaged by patriarchal religions). 

The tendency for the mainstream to go from one extreme to the other is all too evident in human history. The sexual revolution of the 1960s, immediately following the McCarthyism of the forties and fifties, is a perfect example of a pendulum swing from sexual repression to sexual liberation; however, we see now that neither extreme served us. This is also true of God and Goddess ideation. When speaking about the Divine, one simply can't talk about God without talking about the Goddess.  For this reason, it is of particular importance that feminists not go the other extreme and succumb to a female bias, especially when they are openly disgusted and judgmental of a "male bias."  The primordial "One" demands that at some point we transcend gender--the totality of the one is the void, it is pure potentiality, neutral and genderless.

Perhaps my biggest concern with feminist critiques of gender inequality is the tendency to make generalizations, which in many respects is an inevitable human phenomena that stems from a lack of deeper understanding on a particular subject or a lack of awareness of one's own bias. Making broad-brushed and overly simplistic statements shows not only a lack of motivation to fully explore the complexity and diversity of perspectives about a particular argument, but an unwillingness to apply a sense of reason and logic when exploring topics.  Most of my concerns about feminists are tendencies that I also succumbed to in my own process of awakening; therefore I am not placing judgement on these tendencies.  I merely wish to help women to be more aware of their own contingencies of ignorance.  I was fortunate to have people in my life, particularly scientific men, who challenged my ideas and brought me back to a more balanced place.  While I can't admit that I am a fully integrated individual, free from my own bias, I have worked hard to bridge the masculine and feminine energies within myself so that I might be more effective in seeking balance in society. 

 When women take a position of blame and point the finger at men, men are more likely to become defensive and reactionary, when in fact women need the opposite to occur.  Women need men to be more open and willing to receive the reflection they have to show them, as opposed to pushing it away. Women won't be able to penetrate the denial and resistance of men if they are coming from a place of blaming rage. The rage that emerges when a woman comes to realize the extent to which she has been wounded by the patriarchy is indeed a valid emotion, and must be embraced. But rather than venting this rage on men in general, it is important to work through it in personal counseling or with other women.  Venting rage on men will only make them defensive and unwilling to examine the ways in which they have contributed to the problem. Feminists have, consequently, been stereotyped as "raging man haters" because of the few who didn't have the tools to deal with their rage in a healthy manner. 

 Women also need to be more specific as to what kinds of men and male behaviors perpetuate and maintain gender inequality.  As far as I'm concerned, it is the really insecure men in positions of power, who tend to be more traditional and conservative in their views about gender roles, that are the biggest contributors to the problem.   However, there are also those who openly admit they don't condone gender inequality, yet unconsciously contribute to the system of oppression on a day-to-day basis without even realizing it. There are also men who have worked hard to break through their conditioning and are open supporters of the women's movement.

  After long hours of discussion with both men and women on the topic of feminism and women's spirituality, I witnessed the horror, pain and guilt felt by some men who professed they had nothing to do with "the patriarchal" establishment or social inequality.  Upon hearing their voices of resignation and guilt for something they don't feel a part of, I came to realize that there are plenty of men who are open to healing and who recognize the value of integrating their feminine side within themselves and in the world at large.  Men who openly embrace feminist interests will serve as valuable and positive role models for the large majority of men who either refuse to or simply don't understand the benefits of embracing the feminine principle.

 Revealing the Shadow Side of Goddess Religions:

 There is, without exception, a shadow side to all social constructions; therefore, it would be ignorant of us to disregard the ways in which ancient matrifocal societies fell prey to their own contingencies of ignorance. After a critical evaluation of an assortment of perspectives within the women's spirituality movement, I have noticed the tendency of some feminists and theologians to paint ancient matrifocal societies in a simplistic and utopian light, as if they were perfect, egalitarian societies. However, as much as we would like to view them in this light, inevitably, there is a shadow side to Goddess religions that might not be so easily detectable.  While it is possible that these cultures may have been less violent and warlike, and maybe even more egalitarian, I don't believe it's right to assume this as "total truth" when in fact it is impossible for us, as outsiders from a different epoch, to truly discern the reality of a historical period.

Feminist thealogian Rosemary Radford Ruether makes some interesting claims in her book Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. I am impressed by Ruether because she is careful to not oversimplify or make broad generalizations about ancient matrifocal societies and the reasons for the shift into patriarchy. I appreciate her cautious and balanced approach when analyzing the Goddess hypothesis. She is critical of feminists who tend to come off as separatists, such that the sacred masculine is negated. She writes, and I agree that "A separatist vision of demonization of men offers no real hope for resolving the male-female conflict in society."46  

 She is critical of feminist thealogians who tend to paint a perfect picture of matricentric society because they fail to recognize the problems of an insecure male adult identity. Matrifocal societies that "fail to develop an adequately affirmative role for men, one that gives men prestige parallel to that of women but prevents their assuming aggressive dominance over women, inevitably risk developing the resentful male, who defines his masculinity in hostile negation of women."47 Radford doesn't agree with some of the original mothers of the women's spirituality movment,that we can simply return to a Neolithic matricentric system.  However, she does agree that reclaiming the memory of these earlier cultures can be immensely valuable to the wholeness we seek as a society today.  But she strongly advises that we take into consideration the weaknesses of the matricentric core of human society that made it vulnerable to patriarchy.   

 It is difficult to know the down side of a particularly ideological social structure until one has actually lived in it.  Nonetheless, it is our human right to make humble, educated guesses as to what some of these might have been. While I can't say I have thoroughly investigated all theories as to how the shift from matrifocal to patriarchal societies came about, I know there is no simple explanation.  When I try to recall a particular phase in my earlier development of consciousness, it is impossible to be totally objective. I find that I inevitably project some of my more "mature" or "developed" states of mind onto my earlier phases of psychic development.   When examining ancient cultures or earlier phases in human consciousness, it is equally difficult for modern humans to revert back to ancient modes of knowing without projecting our modern day perceptions and beliefs. 

 When I intuitively reflect on the shift, the one thing that continues to come to mind is the pendulum swing, which seems to effectively reflect the rhythms of social change throughout history.  On some deep level, I sense that there were necessary developments in consciousness that came out of matrifocal and patriarchal social systems. However, I think that in each phase we developed totally different modes of knowing, and that each phase eventually reached an extreme point that became dangerous--the shadow that lurks in all social constructions.  In this sense, each phase was necessary in order for human evolution to occur; therefore, one phase isn't "better" than the other.  In the West we have taken rationality and yang energy to an extreme state of imbalance, which is why it is important to now reclaim ancient intuitive knowledge that has been lost to us so that we can come back to a place of balance and equilibrium. However, it is unrealistic to think that we can simply go back in human history and manifest an earlier phase of human conscious. This would be analogous to a mature adult trying to revert back to childhood--it is simply impossible. It seems that what we really need to do is awaken the inner child, the simplicity and the innocence of an earlier phase of human consciousness, but also retain the adult understandings that we have in the modern world.

 In modern society we have experienced the damage caused by the separation of spirit and matter; we have been taught that they are two totally different realities that don't mix, despite how things function in nature.  Our inability to integrate the invisible world of spirit and the visible world of matter has resulted in not only severe fragmentation and damage within the human psyche, but also a contradictory and divided understanding of the world and our relationship to it. An assortment of scholars claim that in ancient Goddess oriented societies, spirit and matter were considered to be one and the same.  There was no separation between this world and the other world, or the sacred and the profane.  Supposedly, the separation into two autonomous and distinct polarities arose much later in human consciousness, and is considered by some scholars to be a tragedy brought on by the patriarchy. 

When I apply the concept of consecrated polarity to the dualism of spirit and matter, I can't help but wonder if the two polarities were so intertwined in early human consciousness that they needed to establish a sense of autonomy before they could once again unite.  Developmental psychologists have observed that a human in its infancy has no separation between its internal and external world, and that in order for self-development to occur, the polarities between self and world need to be established.  Because the micro world of the individual and the macro world of society are reflections of each other (the individual is in society and society is within the individual), I propose that the evolution of human consciousness as a whole evolves in a similar way to that of an individual’s psychic development.  

 If in the infancy of human consciousness spirit and matter were one and the same, it would make sense that in order for us to evolve, the separation between spirit and matter, or "this world" and the "other world," had to occur.  From a Jungian perspective, the feminine principle of relatedness, without an understanding of the masculine principle of autonomy, would promote a sea of sameness that would deny the unique beauty of diversity. Remember that in order for consecrated polarity to function correctly, both polarities need to be autonomous; however, they also need to be interconnected in order for creative evolution to occur.  Like the spark plugs in an engine, the positive and negative charges need a gap in order for the synapses or creative spark of evolution to occur.

 

 Copyright, Victoria Christian, 2019

Exerpt from Feminine Mysticism in Art

CREATIVITY UNDER SEIGE: WOMEN ARTISTS AND IDENTITY FORMATION

" Art is a system of knowledge about oneself and the world at large that is as valuable to human kind as philosophy or science. In all of their creative endeavors, artists are trying to tell us something about the universe, something about human nature and something about themselves "

--Herbert Read, 1963

 To be a woman and an artist in a male dominated, scientifically oriented society can be a difficult task. Women artists now live in a culture in which the relationship to their world is rendered problematic, where the world requires that they bargain with life for their identities. Not only are the arts continuing to be portrayed as dispensable luxuries that must prove their worth in an impersonal mass market, an increasing number of schools are opting to eradicate the arts and extracurricular activities in order to focus instead on what a scientific and technologically oriented culture views as society's major priorities.

Perhaps the most problematic task facing women artists today involves the formation of identity , for it is in this realm that a woman bases her sense of herself as well as her vision of the structure of her life . Because of the high value western society has placed on objectivity and rationalism, women artists and more subjective modes of thought and knowing have had relatively little impact on the values and directions of modern day society (Ruddick 1980). The culturally constructed either/or binary which portrays the artist as subjective, hermeneutic and irrational and the scientist as objective, removed and rational has not only led to a hierarchical portrayal of  science as "better than" or "more valuable" than the arts, it has perpetuated and justified the marginalization of the arts and artists.

An analysis of the history of women and art illustrates just how prevalent the exclusion of women from artistic endeavors and notoriety has been, which reflects an ideological orientation that excludes the acceptance of a perspective revealed by women artists as "real" and "valid."  Not only have women artists been marginalized and defined as different, they have had to work within codes of representation dominated and controlled by men who have invalidated and debased their role within society, resulting in a crisis of purpose, vision and a sense of self (Messkimmon, 1996; Nochlin, 1973).However, very recently women artists have begun to engage in the tedious work of redefining their own position in society--on their own terms. They are challenging the concepts of dominant culture and those perceived as "marginal" and are attempting to redefine their role as women artists.

Because of the feminist movement and the recent upsurge of the postmodern movement, some women artists have been able to come to grips with the patriarchal and scientific ideological foundations that have justified and perpetuated the subjugation of women's voices in art and the society at large. They are working toward exposing a history of tyranny in which patriarchy, power, knowledge, and discourse have all been linked together, creating a complex system of justification and perpetuation of domination and inequality in the arts.

An excerpt from my Thesis Research: Women Artists And Identity Formation

The RISING TIDE OF POVERTY IN AMERICA: ITS TIME TO ADJUST THE POVERTY LINE

 Calculating who is poor is a tricky and complicated affair, despite the good intentions among policymakers to want to improve the well-being of deprived people. The official government data published by the United States Census Bureau shows that, “In 2012, the official poverty rate was 15.0 percent, or just over 46.5 million people. The poverty rate is the share of people below the official poverty line. The poverty line was $22,314 for a family of four, $22,113 for a family of four with two children, and $11,344 for a single individual under age 65” (2012: 14).  However, there is a lot of controversy about the accuracy of these numbers, as they are based on an outdated poverty measure that doesn’t include alternative data. Policy efforts to reduce economic poverty may overlook important aspects of what is means to be poor. As Robert Havemen proclaims “these numbers ignore many non-economic considerations that may affect individual well-being, such as living in unsafe surroundings, being socially isolated, or experiencing adverse health or living arrangements not remediable by spending money (2009: 81).

            The current official poverty measure was developed in the early 1960s by Mollie Orshansky, and only a few minor changes have been implemented since it was first adopted in 1965 (us census). In the early 1960’s when she developed her poverty plan, President Johnson had declared a War on Poverty, and the nation needed a statistical representation of the poor. Her economy food plan was a bare minimum food plan designed for temporary use during economically challenging times. It was developed by taking the least expensive food plan developed by the Department of Agriculture and multiplying it by 3.

 According to Kathleen Short of the US Census Bureau “At the time it was developed, the official poverty thresholds represented the cost of a minimum diet multiplied by three (to allow for expenditures on other goods and services). Family resources were defined for this measure as before-tax money income.”

The Income based poverty line is an absolute measure that is adjusted each year only for changes in prices, not for changes in the standard of living.  The benefits to defining poverty in this way is that it keeps the poverty line fixed over a long period of time, which inevitably effects social policy and federal tax policy.  It also keeps the numbers relatively low, which looks good for the politicians in office. However, the absolute income poverty measure excludes a large number of people from receiving social services that they need, particularly women, minorities and children.  In keeping this outdated poverty line, the wealthy are the one’s who gain because they don’t have to pay higher taxes for social services and the poor people loose necessary services they need as a result of structural oppression.

Interestingly enough, the relatively low tax rate of the United States largely accounts for the nation’s skewed income distribution.   And despite the mammoth size of the federal budget of the United States, it is predicated on a tax base that is minimal compared to those of other industrialized nations.  “A tenant of the welfare state has been the progressive taxation of income and its redistribution to the poor through social programs; thus, the question of income distribution has become integral to the discussion of tax policy” (Karger and Stoesz, 2010: 244).  Unfortunately, research has revealed that tax policy has always contained provisions that benefit special interests. “Bending the tax code in response to lobbying is a long-standing practice in the United States, though today it is often associated with corporate influence or corporate welfare”(Karger and Stoesz, 2010: 243).  The Neo Conservatives have made it very clear that they want to completely do away with any kind of social welfare.  And keeping the poverty line lower than it should be keeps the tax rates low in the United States.  

Some attempts have been made to improve the nation’s official poverty measure.  According to Robert Havemen “In 1995, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences reported the results of a comprehensive study of the strengths and weaknesses of the official measure, and proposed a major revision designed to correct many of the criticisms that have been levied against it” (2009:82). Since that report, the Census Bureau has developed a variety of improved poverty measures reflecting the recommendations of the 1995 report.  In November 2011 and November 2012, the Census Bureau released the first sets of estimates for the Supplemental Poverty Measure. However, none of these alternatives has been adopted to replace the existing official poverty measure (Census Bureau, 2012).

I would personally modify the absolute income poverty line by using a relative measure of poverty, which increases along with the general standard of living. I would also inculcate a multidimensional approach to poverty that includes hardships that people experience in many dimensions—education, housing, food, social contacts, security, and environmental amenities.  Aside from just measuring income, another measure of affluence that I would include is assets, insofar as they are an indication of real wealth.  Consisting of savings, real estate, stocks and bonds, and related property, assets not only can be liquidated during periods of adversity, thus offering the owner a buffer against poverty. According to Karger and Stoesz “The distribution of assets is even more skewed than income distribution, with the highest quintile owning more than 80 percent. By contrast, the wealth of the lowest quintile is negative, indicative of debt” (2010: 245).

In alignment with the 1995 study by the National Academy of Sciences, I would include all the items the reform proposed, which are so clearly delineated by Robert Haveman’s article “What Does it mean to be poor in a rich society?”:

The reform proposal would involve a new threshold based on budget studies of food, clothing, shelter, and amounts that would allow for other needs to be met, such as household supplies, personal care, and non-work-related transportation.  It would also reflect geographical differences in housing costs.  The income measure would also be reworked to include the value of near-money benefits that are available to buy goods and services (for example, food stamps), and would subtract from income required expenses that cannot be used to buy goods and services (for example, income and payroll taxes, child care and other work-related expenses, child support payments to another household, and out-of-pocket medical care costs, including health insurance premiums) (2009:82).

With the implementation of the new poverty threshold, the national statistics of poverty would go up and more people would qualify for social services. However, the corruption in tax policy favoring special interest groups or corporate welfare has to change.  People are so disillusioned by the corruption of democracy and for good reason.  How are we going to incorporate social change when corporate interests rule the roost?   Furthermore, people are highly disillusioned by the way taxes are used, such as funding wars (supposedly fifty cents out of every dollar goes to military costs. If that much went into social welfare we wouldn't be having the problems that we do).

Year after year, the funding for social services dwindles.  This is perhaps the most inhumane thing we could do to the very people that are the backbone of the capitalistic system.  The system is set up for people to be poor, yet the conservative power elite wants to cut the social services for these people—this is absolutely insane! An assortment of research reveals that although there have been some governmental efforts made to reduce poverty; they are superficial efforts that don’t target the root of the problem, which is unregulated capitalism and corporate greed.  In addition, there are a number of social trends that have changed the landscape of the U.S economy, such as globalization, the middle class slide, increasing populations and the diminishing of natural resources. All of these long-term trends drastically affect the U.S. economy and the global economy as well. 

More importantly, the new poverty threshold would assist more women, minorities and children who represent the majority of the poor. The "feminization of poverty" is currently a phenomenon of great concern to social scientists and social workers.  In the United States, the fastest growing type of family structure is that of female-headed households and, because of the high rate of poverty among these households, their increase is mirrored in the growing number of women and children who are poor; almost half of all the poor in the U.S. today live in families headed by women.  Women have higher poverty rates than do men for two reasons.  First, their economic resources are often less than those of men.  Second, they are more likely to be single parents during their working lives and to be unmarried and living alone in their later years. Minority women are highly represented among the poor because of their minority status and a higher risk of single parenthood (Devine, Plunkett, and Wright, 1992). Furthermore, the poverty of women is reflected in the poverty of children.  “There are almost 13 million poor children in the U.S.: 52 percent of them live in families headed by women and the poverty rate for white, black, and Spanish-origin children living in female-headed households is 46 percent, 66 percent, and 71 percent respectively” (Rodger, 1986: 32). 

With the growing number of poor people and dwindling of social welfare, we are headed for a major social crisis, and that doesn’t include the environmental crisis looming over our heads as a result of global capitalism. Chris Farrell wrote an excellent article titled “War on Poverty: From the Great Society to the Great Recession” (American Radio Works, 2014). He discusses some of these social trends and social policies that have contributed to the rising tide of poor people, such as global competition, the decline of private sector unions, rapid technological change and the deregulation of finance, the working poor, and low minimum wages for less educated, low- skilled workers.  His article is realistic and bleak, but it is right on target.  He ends with a quote that describes our current economic, social and environmental crisis in a nut shell:

There are public policies that would improve the job prospects for poor people. But there’s little appetite to initiate or expand anti-poverty programs and probably won’t be anytime soon.  American politics is likely to be defined in the new term by rising alarm over the increasing federal deficit and mammoth government debt. Meanwhile, state and local governments are slashing their support for the poor.  If the government can’t help, the economy will end up doing the heavy lifting by default. But so far the economy is generating little job and income growth, and even when it does come back, low-skilled workers are likely to be left behind. The risk is that the tragic combination of joblessness and poverty will lead to diminished dream and social isolation which in turn, will feed a cycle of unemployment and destructive behavior.  It’s morally and economically wrong.

The war on poverty will never be a war if people are fed a bunch of faulty statistics, which cause them to believe that poverty isn’t a macro, social epidemic.   It is clear that band-aid solutions simply aren’t working anymore, particularly in a time of global crisis. The costs of social welfare are far less than the price paid for globalization in the name of corporate greed.  Unfortunately, the karmic fall out as a result of “profits over people” is causing a massive global dark night of the soul that will inevitably cause even more suffering. The wisdom that will emerge from this death is more equality, cooperation, compassion and tolerance of diversity. 

We need a massive radical humanitarian movement—a new structural social work that transforms society from the inside out.  It is not going to come from any politicians. On the contrary, it will come from the people waking up to the lies that they have been fed by policy makers and greedy capitalists. According to one of my social work heroes, Bob Mullaly, social work ideology has much more in common with the socialist paradigms than it does with the capitalist paradigms (2007). Mullaly writes “If social workers truly believe in the values and ideas they espouse, then they cannot subscribe to and try to maintain a social order that contradicts and violates these same values and ideals (2007: 206).  The time is now for social workers to unite for change.  We simply can’t sit on our laurels anymore; we must do everything that we can to speak out for social change. 

References:

Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, Jessica C. Smith. (2013). Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States. United States Census Bureau, Department of Commerce.

Devine, J.A., Plunkett, M., & Wright, J.D. (1992). The Chronocity of Poverty: Evidence from the PSID, 1966-1987. Social Forces, 70, 787-812.

Farrell, Chris (2014). "War on Poverty: From the Great Society to the Great Recession." American Radio Works, Public Radio: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/feaatures/poverty/rising_tide.html

Haveman, Robert. (2009). "What Does it Mean to be Poor in a Rich Society?" Focus, Vol.26, No.2, Fall.

Karger, Howard, Stoesz, David. (2010). American Social Welfare Policy: A Pluralist Approach. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.

Mishel Lawrence, Bivens Josh, Gould Elise, Shierholz Heidi. (2012). The State Of Working America, 12th Edition. Cornell University Press, New York.

Mullaly, Bob. (2007). The New Structural Social Work.  Oxford University Press, Ontario,    Canada.

Short, Kathleen. (2011). The Supplemental Poverty Measure: Examining the Incidence and Depth of Poverty in the U.S. Taking Account of Taxes and Transfers in 2011. The United States Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, Washington, D.C.

 

Rodgers Jr., Harrell R. (1986). Poor Women, Poor Families.  New York: M.E. Sharp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Feminization of Poverty in the United States

The ‘feminization of poverty’ is currently a phenomenon of great concern to social scientists and social workers.  In the United States, the fastest growing type of family structure is that of female-headed households and, because of the high rate of poverty among these households, their increase is mirrored in the growing number of women and children who are poor; almost half of all the poor in the U.S. today live in families headed by women.  Women have higher poverty rates than do men for two reasons.  First, their economic resources are often less than those of men.  Second, they are more likely to be single parents during their working lives and to be unmarried and living alone in their later years. Poverty is more likely to be a chronic problem among female-householder families. Minority women are highly represented among the poor because of their minority status and a higher risk of single parenthood (Devine, Plunkett, and Wright, 1992). Furthermore, the poverty of women is reflected in the poverty of children.  “There are almost 13 million poor children in the U.S.: 52 percent of them live in families headed by women and the poverty rate for white, black, and Spanish-origin children living in female-headed households is 46 percent, 66 percent, and 71 percent respectively” (Rodger, 1986: 32).  The feminization of poverty is clearly a feminist issue; however, it is also a socialist concern.  The eradication of poverty, which is a Democratic Socialist and Marxian issue, requires a feminist analysis and solution. 

 “The Feminization of poverty” was coined by Diana Pearce to capture a basic contradiction in women’s economic status that emerged between 1960 and 1979.  In spite of increased women’s participation in the labor market, affirmative action programs, and increased entry of women into the professions, the number of female-headed families living below the poverty level increased dramatically while the number of male-headed poor families declined.  By 1970, women headed 48 percent of all poor families, which contrasted sharply with only 23 percent in 1959 (Erie, Rein and Wiget 1983:100).  In addition, because of the increasing number of poor elderly women, the total number of women living below the poverty level jumped in relation to men.  In 1969, 37 percent of the adult poor were women; by 1979, two out of three adults living below the poverty line were women (Stallard, Ehrenrich and Sklar, 1983).

The facts documenting the increasing number of women and children can be found in several recent publications (e.g., Stallard et al., 1983; Sidel, 1986; and Rodger, 1986), all of which have documented the ways in which women are particularly vulnerable to poverty, particularly minority women.  Poverty is being ‘feminized,’ which is clearly expressed in a quote from the President’s National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity (1981):

All other things being equal, if the proportion of the poor in female-householder families were to continue to increase at the same rate as it did from 1976 to 1978, the poverty population would be composed solely of women and their children before the year 2000 (Rodgers, 1986: 7).

 Studies have shown that the causes of women’s poverty are different from the causes of men’s poverty (e.g., Stallard et al., 1983; Sidel, 1986: and Rodger, 1986).  Researchers have focused on factors that are specific to the situation of women in modern society.  As a group, and regardless of class, women are more vulnerable to poverty than men and that, consequently, women’s poverty has different causes than the poverty of men. Below is a statement by Karen Stallard about the difference between women and men’s poverty:

There is a fundamental difference between male and female poverty: for men, poverty is often the consequence of unemployment and a job is generally an effective remedy, while female poverty often exists even when a woman works full-time…….Virtually all women are vulnerable—a divorce or widowhood is all it takes to throw many middle-class women into poverty (Stallard et al., 1983:20).

 To explain the feminization of poverty, we have to invoke some of the things that many women have in common, such as motherhood and low paying jobs. Single motherhood is perhaps the most important determinant of female poverty in the United States (Ehrenriech and Stallard, 1982; Sidel, 1986).  Other predictors of female poverty include unemployment, divorce, loss of higher-paying manufacturing jobs, domestic responsibilities including child and elder care, and lower wages (Ehrenriech and Stallard, 1982). 

According to Scott (1984) women’s poverty has two sources: (a) their unpaid responsibilities for raising children and other family labor and (b) sex discrimination.   In addition, the lack of affordable childcare is a huge detriment.  Approximately one-fifth of unemployed women are jobless due to lack of childcare.

            Low wages, often due to occupational segregation, discrimination, and insufficient work hours, are major contributors to poverty among women.  Females are concentrated in the secondary sector of the labor force, which consists of low-paying jobs. In addition, most newly created jobs are in the lower-paying service sector and are occupied mainly by women (Smith, 1986). 

            As the preceding research indicates, the feminization of poverty is associated with many interrelated structural and ideological variables.  Stallard et al. (1983) sums up the determinant of the feminization of poverty as follows:

It is a direct outgrowth of women’s dual role as unpaid labor in the home and underpaid labor in the work force.  The pace has been quickening by rising rates of divorce and single motherhood, but the course of women’s poverty is determined by the sexism and racism ingrained in an unjust economy (51).

Recent literature has produced not only a detailed description, but also some plausible and obvious explanations of the feminization of poverty.  In addition to these structural economic factors, Sidle (1986) argues that women’s poverty is also the result of ideological and structural constrains peculiar to women.  Women socialized to put family obligations first, to see themselves primarily as wives and mothers, are likely to neglect or overlook the need to develop occupational and educational skills that will help them support themselves if they remain single or their marriage breaks up.  In addition, Women’s domestic activities, in spite of their obvious significance, are devalued and time consuming, and interfere with their full participation in the labor force (Sidel, 1986: 25-35).  Feminists use the term ‘dual role’ to explain the fact that most women must integrate wage work and housework to make a living.  I will now discuss the theoretical approach of Socialist feminism and how it can be used as a tool to explain the feminization of poverty, particularly the connection between the ‘dual role’ of women’s labor and poverty. 

The social problem of women and poverty in general is complex and deeply entrenched in the macro systems of capitalism, patriarchy, ideology and discourse.  Research has revealed that the feminization of poverty is continuing to increase in the United States and is abhorrently evident in third world countries.  According to a report by the Division for the Advancement of Women  (2000) “The majority of the 1.5 billion people living on 1 dollar a day or less are women. Worldwide, women earn an average slightly more than 50 percent of what men earn. In addition, the gap between women and men caught in the cycle of poverty has continued to widen in the past decade” (2).

It is clear that the existing capitalistic system in the United States is not able solve the growing problems of poverty and gender/racial oppression.  Both socialist feminism and structural social work as a critical theory offer an analysis of poverty that not only emphasizes the structural causes of poverty as opposed to blaming the individual, they are inclusive of a diversity of perspectives, and critical of dominant ideologies and power structures.  However, structural social work theory is more informed and cutting edge as it inculcates the jewels of postmodern and modern social theory.  While all theories have their biases and flaws, they both advocate for an alternative social vision consistent with progressive social work values in which life is free of domination.  

Perhaps the most difficult challenge to uniting in social causes is the deeply entrenched system of competition and rampant individualism, which continues to divide and conquer people. In addition, we are so conditioned to buy into the overly “yang” work- a-holism that keeps people so spun out that they don’t have the energy or volition to challenge status quo or be politically engaged.  I am convinced that in order for radical change to occur, it will require both revolution and evolution. Because things are so deeply entrenched and so many people are ignorant of what is truly going on, we need awakened light-workers to work from within the system.  However, we also need visionaries who are working from the margins on a grass roots level as they will be the informed leaders and visionaries working behind the scenes.  Marxists tend to believe that social work must operate outside the existing system or else it will become incorporated into the present social order and end up protecting it rather than changing it (Mullaly, 2007).  This is a good point when one considers how easy it is to get complacent when you are getting a descent paycheck. 

The power elite is not going to just hand over their power.  As a result, people are going to have to wake up and join forces if any social change is going to occur.  Karl Marx was right when he said that the contradictions in capitalism would eventually cause it to self-destruct (Mullaly 2007). We are witnessing its collapse at this very moment in history.  With the middle-class slide occurring we might see enough class conflict to produce a revolution.  We simply haven’t had enough people suffering enough to act as a catalyst to radical revolution, but this will inevitably change in the near future.  

Karl Marx predicted the fall of capitalism in the 1800’s, but he was written off by social theorists who weren’t conscious or smart enough to receive the prophetic vision he revealed to us.  Perhaps one of my favorite quotes by Mullaly is this “Unfortunately, too many social workers and social theorists have dismissed Marxism as an interesting but outdated theory of society and social change.  Nothing could be further from the truth” (2007:142).  There is nothing new under the sun, just more complex versions of social problems that have been occurring for centuries under patriarchy.  Civilizations have come and gone and if we can’t rally to make positive changes, nature will find a compassionate way to put an end to our collective neurosis and suicide mission. A tidal wave is coming with the global aging population and most people don’t even see it coming. If we aren’t able to make effective changes now, it will inevitably be made for us-- and it won’t be pretty.

 

 

References:

 

Butler, Judith. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Collins, Patricia Hill. (1990).  Black Feminist Thought in the Matrix of Domination. Boston: Unwin Hyman.

Erie, Steven P., Martin Rein, and Barbara Wiget. (1983). Women and the Reagan Revolution: Thermidor for the Social Welfare Economy.  In Families, Politics, and Public Policy, Irene Diamond (ed.) New York: Longman, 100.

Devine, J.A., Plunkett, M., & Wright, J.D. (1992). The Chronocity of Poverty: Evidence from the PSID, 1966-1987. Social Forces, 70, 787-812.

Hartmann, Heidi. (1979).  Capitalism, Patriarchy, and Job Segregation by Sex.  In, Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminist, Zillah Eisensten, (ed.), 206-247.

Mullaly, Bob. (2007).  The New Structural Social Work.  Oxford University Press, Ontario,    Canada.

Rodgers Jr., Harrell R. (1986). Poor Women, Poor Families.  New York: M.E. Sharp.

Scott, H. (1984). Working Your Way to the Bottom: The Feminization of Poverty. Boston: Pandora.

Sidel, Ruth. (1986). Women and Children Lat: The Plight of Poor Women in Affluent America.  New York: Viking.

Smith, J. (1986).  The Paradox of Women’s Poverty: Wage-Earning Women and Economic Transformation. In B.C. Gelpi, N.C.M. Harstock, C.C. Novak, &M.H. Stober (Eds.), Women and Poverty Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 121-140.

Stallard, Karin, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Holly Sklar. (1983). Poverty in the American Dream: Women and Children First. Boston: South End Press.

United Nations Department of Public Information. (2000).  "Review and Appraisal of the Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action: Report of the Secretary-General.” Retrieved from: www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/followup/session/presskit/fs1.htm

Williams, Fiona. (1989).  Social Policy: A Critical Introduction: Issues of Race, Gender and Class. New York: Blackwell.

 

 

 

The RISING TIDE OF POVERTY IN AMERICA: ITS TIME TO ADJUST THE POVERTY LINE

 Calculating who is poor is a tricky and complicated affair, despite the good intentions among policymakers to want to improve the well-being of deprived people. The official government data published by the United States Census Bureau shows that, “In 2012, the official poverty rate was 15.0 percent, or just over 46.5 million people. The poverty rate is the share of people below the official poverty line. The poverty line was $22,314 for a family of four, $22,113 for a family of four with two children, and $11,344 for a single individual under age 65” (2012: 14).  However, there is a lot of controversy about the accuracy of these numbers, as they are based on an outdated poverty measure that doesn’t include alternative data. Policy efforts to reduce economic poverty may overlook important aspects of what is means to be poor. As Robert Havemen proclaims “these numbers ignore many non-economic considerations that may affect individual well-being, such as living in unsafe surroundings, being socially isolated, or experiencing adverse health or living arrangements not remediable by spending money (2009: 81).

            The current official poverty measure was developed in the early 1960s by Mollie Orshansky, and only a few minor changes have been implemented since it was first adopted in 1965 (us census). In the early 1960’s when she developed her poverty plan, President Johnson had declared a War on Poverty, and the nation needed a statistical representation of the poor. Her economy food plan was a bare minimum food plan designed for temporary use during economically challenging times. It was developed by taking the least expensive food plan developed by the Department of Agriculture and multiplying it by 3.

 According to Kathleen Short of the US Census Bureau “At the time it was developed, the official poverty thresholds represented the cost of a minimum diet multiplied by three (to allow for expenditures on other goods and services). Family resources were defined for this measure as before-tax money income.”

The Income based poverty line is an absolute measure that is adjusted each year only for changes in prices, not for changes in the standard of living.  The benefits to defining poverty in this way is that it keeps the poverty line fixed over a long period of time, which inevitably effects social policy and federal tax policy.  It also keeps the numbers relatively low, which looks good for the politicians in office. However, the absolute income poverty measure excludes a large number of people from receiving social services that they need, particularly women, minorities and children.  In keeping this outdated poverty line, the wealthy are the one’s who gain because they don’t have to pay higher taxes for social services and the poor people loose necessary services they need as a result of structural oppression.

Interestingly enough, the relatively low tax rate of the United States largely accounts for the nation’s skewed income distribution.   And despite the mammoth size of the federal budget of the United States, it is predicated on a tax base that is minimal compared to those of other industrialized nations.  “A tenant of the welfare state has been the progressive taxation of income and its redistribution to the poor through social programs; thus, the question of income distribution has become integral to the discussion of tax policy” (Karger and Stoesz, 2010: 244).  Unfortunately, research has revealed that tax policy has always contained provisions that benefit special interests. “Bending the tax code in response to lobbying is a long-standing practice in the United States, though today it is often associated with corporate influence or corporate welfare”(Karger and Stoesz, 2010: 243).  The Neo Conservatives have made it very clear that they want to completely do away with any kind of social welfare.  And keeping the poverty line lower than it should be keeps the tax rates low in the United States.  

Some attempts have been made to improve the nation’s official poverty measure.  According to Robert Havemen “In 1995, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences reported the results of a comprehensive study of the strengths and weaknesses of the official measure, and proposed a major revision designed to correct many of the criticisms that have been levied against it” (2009:82). Since that report, the Census Bureau has developed a variety of improved poverty measures reflecting the recommendations of the 1995 report.  In November 2011 and November 2012, the Census Bureau released the first sets of estimates for the Supplemental Poverty Measure. However, none of these alternatives has been adopted to replace the existing official poverty measure (Census Bureau, 2012).

I would personally modify the absolute income poverty line by using a relative measure of poverty, which increases along with the general standard of living. I would also inculcate a multidimensional approach to poverty that includes hardships that people experience in many dimensions—education, housing, food, social contacts, security, and environmental amenities.  Aside from just measuring income, another measure of affluence that I would include is assets, insofar as they are an indication of real wealth.  Consisting of savings, real estate, stocks and bonds, and related property, assets not only can be liquidated during periods of adversity, thus offering the owner a buffer against poverty. According to Karger and Stoesz “The distribution of assets is even more skewed than income distribution, with the highest quintile owning more than 80 percent. By contrast, the wealth of the lowest quintile is negative, indicative of debt” (2010: 245).

In alignment with the 1995 study by the National Academy of Sciences, I would include all the items the reform proposed, which are so clearly delineated by Robert Haveman’s article “What Does it mean to be poor in a rich society?”:

The reform proposal would involve a new threshold based on budget studies of food, clothing, shelter, and amounts that would allow for other needs to be met, such as household supplies, personal care, and non-work-related transportation.  It would also reflect geographical differences in housing costs.  The income measure would also be reworked to include the value of near-money benefits that are available to buy goods and services (for example, food stamps), and would subtract from income required expenses that cannot be used to buy goods and services (for example, income and payroll taxes, child care and other work-related expenses, child support payments to another household, and out-of-pocket medical care costs, including health insurance premiums) (2009:82).

With the implementation of the new poverty threshold, the national statistics of poverty would go up and more people would qualify for social services. However, the corruption in tax policy favoring special interest groups or corporate welfare has to change.  People are so disillusioned by the corruption of democracy and for good reason.  How are we going to incorporate social change when corporate interests rule the roost?   Furthermore, people are highly disillusioned by the way taxes are used, such as funding wars (supposedly fifty cents out of every dollar goes to military costs. If that much went into social welfare we wouldn't be having the problems that we do).

Year after year, the funding for social services dwindles.  This is perhaps the most inhumane thing we could do to the very people that are the backbone of the capitalistic system.  The system is set up for people to be poor, yet the conservative power elite wants to cut the social services for these people—this is absolutely insane! An assortment of research reveals that although there have been some governmental efforts made to reduce poverty; they are superficial efforts that don’t target the root of the problem, which is unregulated capitalism and corporate greed.  In addition, there are a number of social trends that have changed the landscape of the U.S economy, such as globalization, the middle class slide, increasing populations and the diminishing of natural resources. All of these long-term trends drastically affect the U.S. economy and the global economy as well. 

More importantly, the new poverty threshold would assist more women, minorities and children who represent the majority of the poor. The "feminization of poverty" is currently a phenomenon of great concern to social scientists and social workers.  In the United States, the fastest growing type of family structure is that of female-headed households and, because of the high rate of poverty among these households, their increase is mirrored in the growing number of women and children who are poor; almost half of all the poor in the U.S. today live in families headed by women.  Women have higher poverty rates than do men for two reasons.  First, their economic resources are often less than those of men.  Second, they are more likely to be single parents during their working lives and to be unmarried and living alone in their later years. Minority women are highly represented among the poor because of their minority status and a higher risk of single parenthood (Devine, Plunkett, and Wright, 1992). Furthermore, the poverty of women is reflected in the poverty of children.  “There are almost 13 million poor children in the U.S.: 52 percent of them live in families headed by women and the poverty rate for white, black, and Spanish-origin children living in female-headed households is 46 percent, 66 percent, and 71 percent respectively” (Rodger, 1986: 32). 

With the growing number of poor people and dwindling of social welfare, we are headed for a major social crisis, and that doesn’t include the environmental crisis looming over our heads as a result of global capitalism. Chris Farrell wrote an excellent article titled “War on Poverty: From the Great Society to the Great Recession” (American Radio Works, 2014). He discusses some of these social trends and social policies that have contributed to the rising tide of poor people, such as global competition, the decline of private sector unions, rapid technological change and the deregulation of finance, the working poor, and low minimum wages for less educated, low- skilled workers.  His article is realistic and bleak, but it is right on target.  He ends with a quote that describes our current economic, social and environmental crisis in a nut shell:

There are public policies that would improve the job prospects for poor people. But there’s little appetite to initiate or expand anti-poverty programs and probably won’t be anytime soon.  American politics is likely to be defined in the new term by rising alarm over the increasing federal deficit and mammoth government debt. Meanwhile, state and local governments are slashing their support for the poor.  If the government can’t help, the economy will end up doing the heavy lifting by default. But so far the economy is generating little job and income growth, and even when it does come back, low-skilled workers are likely to be left behind. The risk is that the tragic combination of joblessness and poverty will lead to diminished dream and social isolation which in turn, will feed a cycle of unemployment and destructive behavior.  It’s morally and economically wrong.

The war on poverty will never be a war if people are fed a bunch of faulty statistics, which cause them to believe that poverty isn’t a macro, social epidemic.   It is clear that band-aid solutions simply aren’t working anymore, particularly in a time of global crisis. The costs of social welfare are far less than the price paid for globalization in the name of corporate greed.  Unfortunately, the karmic fall out as a result of “profits over people” is causing a massive global dark night of the soul that will inevitably cause even more suffering. The wisdom that will emerge from this death is more equality, cooperation, compassion and tolerance of diversity. 

We need a massive radical humanitarian movement—a new structural social work that transforms society from the inside out.  It is not going to come from any politicians. On the contrary, it will come from the people waking up to the lies that they have been fed by policy makers and greedy capitalists. According to one of my social work heroes, Bob Mullaly, social work ideology has much more in common with the socialist paradigms than it does with the capitalist paradigms (2007). Mullaly writes “If social workers truly believe in the values and ideas they espouse, then they cannot subscribe to and try to maintain a social order that contradicts and violates these same values and ideals (2007: 206).  The time is now for social workers to unite for change.  We simply can’t sit on our laurels anymore; we must do everything that we can to speak out for social change. 

References:

Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, Jessica C. Smith. (2013). Income, Poverty and Health Insurance in the United States. United States Census Bureau, Department of Commerce.

Devine, J.A., Plunkett, M., & Wright, J.D. (1992). The Chronocity of Poverty: Evidence from the PSID, 1966-1987. Social Forces, 70, 787-812.

Farrell, Chris (2014). "War on Poverty: From the Great Society to the Great Recession." American Radio Works, Public Radio: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/feaatures/poverty/rising_tide.html

Haveman, Robert. (2009). "What Does it Mean to be Poor in a Rich Society?" Focus, Vol.26, No.2, Fall.

Karger, Howard, Stoesz, David. (2010). American Social Welfare Policy: A Pluralist Approach. Allyn and Bacon, Boston, MA.

Mishel Lawrence, Bivens Josh, Gould Elise, Shierholz Heidi. (2012). The State Of Working America, 12th Edition. Cornell University Press, New York.

Mullaly, Bob. (2007). The New Structural Social Work.  Oxford University Press, Ontario,    Canada.

Short, Kathleen. (2011). The Supplemental Poverty Measure: Examining the Incidence and Depth of Poverty in the U.S. Taking Account of Taxes and Transfers in 2011. The United States Census Bureau, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, Washington, D.C.

 

Rodgers Jr., Harrell R. (1986). Poor Women, Poor Families.  New York: M.E. Sharp.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Primordial Sacred Union in Psychology, Religion and Mythology

The concept of the primordial sacred union has come to us by way of world religions, especially in elements of Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, as well as in the Platonic traditions of the West.  An assortment of disciplines has also attempted to conceptualize this symbiotic union. The writing of Carl Jung is filled with examples from myth and culture that point to the importance and value of recognizing the qualities of the primordial sacred union within each individual and the world at large. Humanity was meant to be modeled after this divine union, but has somehow fallen away or become severed from its original wholeness, and has digressed into the imperfect world we see all around us. 

In his book, Man and His Symbols, 16 Carl Jung proposed that, in addition to our immediate, personal consciousness, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature, which is identical in all individuals. He referred to this as the collective unconscious, which does not develop individually but is inherited. The contents of the collective unconscious, Jung argued, manifest themselves in the form of symbolic images, or archetypes, representing the primordial events that shaped human history.  These archetypal images, which include such symbols as the mother and father, the warrior, the seeker, the sage and the child, are common to all people.  Jung's theory of the feminine principle as a universal archetype, a primordial, instinctual pattern of behavior deeply imprinted on the human psyche, has assisted humanity in its ability to both understand and ground the concept of the Goddess as existing within both the individual and collective psyches.  In this sense, archetypal symbolism of the primordial sacred union is an international form of communication because it bypasses the barriers of language, race and culture.  It is perhaps the most effective form in which sacred concepts can be given expression.

Carl Jung's studies of alchemy, Taoism, and the work of new paradigm scientists led him to become one of the first modern male scientists to value the feminine in equal measure to the masculine.  His concept of wholeness, the goal of the process of individuation, included the integration of the masculine and feminine principles.  He recognized the feminine as the source of receptivity and relatedness, and called for its integration into a Western culture that had gone too far in development of the rational, the materialistic, and the masculine. 

Jung proposed that the primordial sacred union, otherwise referred to by him as "androgyny,"17 is a universal archetype inherent in the collective unconscious and similar to the sacred marriage.  Humanity was supposed to be modeled after this divine image of Creator/Creatrix, but somehow mankind fell away from and was severed from the original wholeness. While this sacred union is as old as creation itself, we have come to know about it through traces left in myths and the sacred traditions of many indigenous peoples. Jung proposed that androgyny, which refers to the anima (feminine) and animus (masculine) aspects within a single human being, regardless of sex, may be the oldest archetype inherent in the human psyche.  Both are present within every human psyche, regardless of physical gender.  In other words, there are masculine and feminine qualities in both men and women. 

Jung believed that the anima (feminine) and animus (masculine) had to be in balance before a person could achieve psychological individuation, or psychic wholeness.  Thus, women, at some point in their individuation process, need to integrate within themselves the masculine qualities, such as assertiveness and objectivity, in order to become whole persons.  Conversely, men need to integrate the feminine qualities that reside within their psyches, such as compassion and non-resistance or passivity, in order to become psychically whole.  Jung was not proposing that men become women.  On the contrary, Jung believed that in order to bridge the gap between male and female, we needed to be able to empathize with the opposite sex.  The movement towards becoming androgynous persons implies a radical change in human consciousness and different styles of human behavior than what has been deemed normal.  It demands that we resist traditional sex role stereotypes and the forms of sexual identity that force men and women into exploiting their differences rather than working together in equality and interdependence. 

The concept of androgyny also proposes new ways of thinking about sexual identity.  Rather than viewing sexual identity as only male and female, androgyny proposes that we begin to view sexual identity as existing on a continuum, which includes recognition of the multitude of sexual permutations that exist in the gray area, such as gays, lesbians and bisexuals.  Biologist and feminist Anne Fausto-Sterling wrote a brilliant book titled Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality,18 which challenges the notion that there always has been and can forevermore only be two human sexes; male and female.  With examples drawn from daily life and from history, sociology, biology and anthropology, Fausto-Sterling demonstrates that these dualisms are neither natural nor cultural universals, but arise from our society's insistence on seeing people that way.  If sexual identity indeed exists on a continuum, and male and female are universal energies, then it makes sense that there is an enormous gray area that has been severely denied in our culture.  After reading this book and gaining an understanding of the universal archetype of androgyny, my sense of male versus female was radically changed. I began to understand why some women I know exude more masculine than feminine qualities, and conversely, why some men appear more feminine than masculine. 

In addition to individual, personal experience, the concept of androgyny demands a meeting of the opposites in our external, socio-cultural environment as well.  Jung proposed that once we have learned to recognize and accept the seemingly contradictory aspects within ourselves, it naturally follows that we need to extend this attitude of mutual interdependence to the wider human community.  Change and wholeness happens from the inside out; therefore, we cannot expect to have equality in the external, socio-cultural environment until each individual first works on becoming integrated within his/herself. The power of the individual to change the world is a profound concept if, and only if, one is committed to her/his personal and spiritual growth.  Too often people try to save the world when in fact what they really need to be doing is examining their own false beliefs and internal imbalances.  Jesus said that a person must first remove the log from his own eye before he can see clearly to remove the splinter from his brother’s eye. 

Author and Jungian psychologist June Singer explains in her book, Androgyny: The Opposites Within,19 that all cultures around the world have collectively attempted to conceptualize the beginning of creation, and each one of them has pointed to the primordial sacred union that existed long before creation. Creation mythology has existed wherever people have questioned their origins. It is in the nature of humans to wonder about the unknown and search for answers.  Since the beginning of time we have tried to imagine what it might have been like before anything had come into existence, yet the language tends to vary from culture to culture.   Science too has focused on understanding what happened seconds before the Big Bang.

Despite being separated by geographical barriers, Carl Jung and his protégé's discovered that many cultures have developed creation myths with the same basic elements. June Singer,20 for example, noted that one of the commonalities is the belief that in the beginning there was a dark void. Chaos is the potency that exists in the void. No entities of any kind were in awareness, and then, in some mysterious way, some bright spark emerged out of nothingness. Within that spark were energies that would eventually be distinguishable as opposites, separating then into the masculine and feminine principles. In the old myths, the idea of this divine union stems from the belief that in the beginning there was a primordial unity, “the eternal one” in which all the opposites are contained. In other words, the "One" ultimately transcends gender.  It can be defined as the genderless One which contains the Two; namely, the male and the female. At some point in time the primordial unity is broken open and separated into two opposite energies. Those polarities are expressed in an assortment of ways; for example, light and dark, positive and negative, hot and cold, mind and body, art and science, war and peace, peace and strife.  Through the conflict and harmony of these two energies, the original, elemental creative force was born—The Primordial Sacred. 

Copy of Bodhissatvas of Compassion: The Heart of the Mother

Every heart is connected to the Great One Heart.  It is from this source of love that all things exists.  It is from this heart of hearts that we are unconditionally loved, nourished and redeemed. As we enter into a suffering world, God 's heart shares in our pain and suffering.   For Gods pain is the greatest of all pains and it is because of his/her pain, that we have been granted the gift of compassion, grace and forgiveness. The Great One Heart is the source of all loving compassion, which comes through all creation as an intense surge of loving kindness, patience and forgiveness.  The Hebrew word for “compassion” is derived from the word for “womb.”  God is the primal matrix, the Great One from which all beings are born.

         While it is impossible for us to grasp the immense love of the Great One Heart, each one of us is connected to it and experience on a very tangible level the immense love pulsating through our veins. This heart connection to Love is in fact our very life line or umbilical cord so to speak.   This doesn't mean that all humans acknowledge God as the ground of their being, or are capable of receiving God's unconditional and unwavering love.  If, by our own free will we decide to cultivate and understand the compassion of the Great One heart, we must first learn to receive Spirit's love, which requires a certain degree of surrender or a death of the ego.  For it is only when we surrender to the Beloved in our brokenness and pain that the Great One Heart can then fill our cups with unconditional love and forgiveness.  It has been said that one can't have compassion for others until they first have compassion for themselves.   It is because of Great Spirits compassion for us, that we can extend compassion to others. 

         When one has been transformed and melted like butter by the love of the Great heart, they can then choose to become a vessel of this love and commit their lives to assisting those who are still suffering, or, those who have bought into the illusion or Maya.  They might choose to become what Christians call stewards of God's love or what Buddhists call a Bodhisattva of compassion, a being (satva) committed to liberation (bodhi).  This kinship with the suffering of others is the discovery of our soft spot, the discovery of Bodhichitta or Mercy.  Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word that means “noble or awakened heart.”  It is said to be present in all beings. If this is the case, everything that exists in creation does so because of Chi's compassion.  This love is so great that it moves us to explore what it means to live a compassionate life as a humble admirer of the Tao.

         For most humans,  the practice of compassion is easier said than done, simply because it goes against the grain of the ego, which is self serving and dog-eat-dog by nature.  Most people like to think of themselves as compassionate, but it is rare that one actually walks their talk and lives an obedient life of compassionate service to others.  If  one chooses to hold compassion as a priority in their life, they will inevitably be required to walk a steep path simply because it goes against the grain of competition and social hierarchies.  Furthermore, the cultivation of compassion stems from a deep, sense of devotion or longing to know the Beloved, which isn't reinforced in cultures that champion science over religion or spirituality.  In our legalistic societies, we have been conditioned to believe that there is little incentive in the human world to cultivate compassion because it might make us too soft and therefore more likely to be eaten alive by those whose hearts have grown hard.  Yet, in fact, the very opposite is true.  What we fail to see is that compassion is stronger than fear and ego because it awakens us to Oneness.  In embracing human suffering and healing our hearts, compassion breaks down walls and unites all of humanity in the Great One Heart.  It is the gateway to our spiritual evolution as a human race.   For it is the true Utopia that we all seek.

         Compassion is not a natural phenomena simply because suffering is not something we desire, on the contrary, it is something we want to avoid at all costs. It is a call that goes against the grain; that turns us completely around and requires a total conversion of heart and mind.   Why would one want to open their heart when the world will just break it over and over again?  In the midst of so much human suffering, one might assume that it would be easier to shut one's heart down and not have any expectations of hope for the future at all.  Yet, in our heart of hearts, we all know that a world without compassion would be a living hell, a human wasteland, and therefore, some of us decide to take up the cross and uphold God's grace amidst great suffering and despair.  We do this for one reason and one reason only, because it is the very core of our being, it is the greatest blessing any of us could ever ask for.

         Those who choose to cultivate compassion in their lives soon come to learn of the spiritual riches in the Great One Heart, which makes the  false riches of the socially constructed, egoistic material world look like plastic, disposable toys.  Furthermore, they know that implementing compassion means setting healthy boundaries that don't allow others to manipulate or control them.  When one learns to love themselves, they become more aware of the ways in which those who are still suffering blame and project their sense of hopelessness onto others.  Having compassion for oneself means saying “no” to a lot of unhealthy patterns that bombard us on a day to day basis.  It means having the courage to stay in our integrity, to uphold the sword of truth and allow it to cut away the dysfunction and disease in our belief systems that are keeping us imprisoned and disempowered.   When one comes from a place of compassion, they are holding up an ancient light of truth that has been revered throughout history and can never be destroyed.   It is the truth that we are One in the Great Matrix on Consciousness.  It is the truth that each one of us is a reflection of the Ultimate Reality.  This is the core message of the Bodhisattva and the central message of Jesus's teachings and so many other teachers of compassion.  Their teachings are designed to awaken each person to their Divine Self and direct connection to Source. 

         Jesus came to realize that he and God were one.  However, in this realization, he came to an even greater realization, which made him equal with all of humanity.  Jesus never elevated himself above others, on the contrary, it was humanity who put him on a pedastool—one that would be very destructive to our spiritual evolution.  A Monk by the name of John Martin Sahajananda wrote in a book titled, You Are the Light: Rediscovering the Eastern Jesus, that “The realization of Jesus' Divine Self as God would have been incomplete had he not also realized that the real self of every human being also is God, or the light of the world. He called upon his followers and the whole of humanity to “realize that the light is buried within each one of us.  He told people that they were the “salt of the earth” but that they had lost this consciousness with the consequence that the earth had lost its meaning and purpose. 

The path of the bodhisattva is indeed a radical call, a call that goes to the roots of our being.   Those who choose to implement compassion in their lives are the weavers and the mendors, the bridge builders and the integrators, the diplomats and the nurturers.   They work in the trenches of our communities in an assortment of vocations such as counselors, social workers, maids, trash collectors, caregivers, mothers, fathers, teachers, children, nurses, artists, construction workers and farmers.  They are those who have embraced their own grief and experienced the redemptive power of God's unconditional love.  They are the salt of the earth, the light houses in the storm that  guide us back to our Divine Self.  They are the true educators of spirit, totally perfect in their imperfection because hey have been touched by the healing powers of Grace.   There one wish s to awaken all soul's to the power within themselves.  However, they know that God gave us free will and therefore, one can't force another human to seek the Great One Heart.  They are the only one's who can reconstruct the missing link.  As the saying goes, “One can lead a horse to water, but they can't make them drink.”

         It is because of the Great One Heart, that the Bodhisattva's of compassion come as humble admirers, grateful and joyous, for they know deep in their hearts that Love is Victorious and that we have a lot to look forward to.  They also know that they have an immense amount of healing work to do, for the illusion of Maya is much like a weed that wants to strangle out the Truth of humanity. The Bodhisattva is quite aware of the social injustices in the world and are deeply pained by them  all, just as God is pained by it all.  However, rather than run from the places of poverty and despair, which most people tend to do, they go directly too these places.  Most of them choose to serve without recognition, blue ribbons and purple hearts.  They have chosen the difficult task of opening and healing their hearts so that they can then assist in healing what is broken on larger levels.  They don't expect recognition because they know that those who are still suffering are experiencing a spiritual void—a starvation of the soul-- and therefore aren't coming from a place of gratitude.   Most of them work in humble servitude and know their human limitations.  They don't expect to save the world, this is too heavy of a burden for one to carry.  However, it is their hope that they can  assist in the raising of human consciousness, even if it means working with just a few individuals in their life time.   For awakening others to their Divine Self is the most powerful source of social change.  In this sense, they are radical agents of social change.  And while they are the very glue of humanity, most bodhisattva s will never be featured on the cover of a magazine for their humanitarian deeds.  In keeping their eyes on God, they know where their true source of recognition comes from. 


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