Honoring 9/11

Nine years before the planes hit theWorldTradeTowers, I painted a prophetic image while spending two months in solitude. I didn’t realize it was prophetic until two days after the event  happened. The painting hung in my living room and as I walked by it after 9/11 the painting reached out and literally shook me.

The odd feelings THEN that troubled me as the image spilled onto paper ripped open the significance NOW.

My paintings have always been another way – a more gestalt way – of expressing what I know to be true. Back in 1992, I was purposely painting the downfall of the American way, our profit motivated culture which greedily consumes whatever it wants with the best of intentions. I knew then, still know now, that way is a cultural fossil and needs re-storying.

So I purposely painted the power of love, forgiveness and intertribal-interdependency in the sweat lodge to rebirth modern humanity’s folly.

To portray that folly I chose the symbology of nuclear bomb testing in the Nevada desert, an environmental disaster for all life including our own and one on which I had done considerable study. I thought I’d show the potential of a bomb exploding near my old hometown of Philadelphia, a haven for highly paid lawyers.

What became uncomfortable for me as I painted was that I couldn’t paint just one high rise building. The reality of Philadelphia at the time – at least in my memory since I had moved away in 1980 – was that only one really tall building stood in downtown. But I HAD to paint two and they were IDENTICAL. And even more interesting to me was that I had to paint them sort of melting, folding over on themselves.

My rational mind kept telling me that a nuclear bomb would have splintered them, vaporized them but the buildings insisted on folding over. It wasn’t until I saw those videos replayed again and again of the twin towers crumpling that I felt the reality of what I had painted.

That kind of epiphany is uncomfortable. My ego didn’t know how to handle the possibility that I could see the future, so I diminished the significance and therefore my voice in the world. I wonder how many of us still are doing that – diminishing our “knowing” of where we are headed on this planet.

I find support and wisdom in rereading Eairth’s Imagination by Per Espen Stoknes.

He writes: The images that arise from such meetings of Eairth and body is what we call psyche. It might be a mystery, a type of magic, how all this spontaneously comes about but not mystical in the sense of other-worldly or hidden in other dimensions. Even though air itself is invisible, it is highly palpable: just move your hand quickly through it and feel the flow around your fingers. It is always already here and now.”

We need to recognize.  . . “the agency of the ‘ordinary’ Air at a concrete and immanent level. The Greek root of psyche and spirit both go back to breath – our most intimate participation in the air. Once our culture forgot about the air as a living entity, we needed to interiorize psyche not to lose her altogether. This interiorization left the Air itself bereft of any agency, intelligence and autonomy. The human mind always moving around in the brilliant Air, dependent on the air for every second of well functioning, still forgot the primacy of the Air to all Being, to all perception and knowledge.

The Eairth then is also the home to and the place for all images. Ever single image we work with in expressive arts is made available only as a gift through the highly impressionable, receptive and endlessly generous medium of the air. Without it we could neither breathe, speak, act nor draw. It is the forgotten grace of our being.”

It is that grace that saves me from hubris.

And perhaps from terrorism, too.

I’ll return to the tee pee tomorrow.

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About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, and eco-psychologist, mother of four and grandmother of eight.
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6 Responses to Honoring 9/11

  1. That’s quite a painting, Deborah. These catastrophic events create waves where we cannot imagine…

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    • Deborah J. Milton says:

      Indeed, Kate…I was dumbstruck at the time. Many here today are feeling the after shocks of 9/11, still grieving, still puzzling, still unsure of why, still not knowing how to respond to fear…
      So much to learn!

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  2. Pat Johnson says:

    OMG Deborah, I had no idea you had done this… piece. Wow… What a Prophet you are (added to your long list of accomplishments in this life time…
    Just imagine you will have many many more (lifetimes) here to add to our world your great gifts.
    I miss you and love you and say about you…. HORRAHhhhhhh~

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    • Deborah says:

      Isn’t it amazing how many stories our lives hold that we don’t know about and don’t even know to ask about because we don’t have any clues…We are full, so full of experiences…

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  3. Shannon Goose says:

    It was something you said, Deborah in your piece about 9/11 that sparked a memory of another piece I read about skyscrapers. The phrase you used was, “the down fall of the American way” that cause me to remember that Keith Critchlow, an expert of traditional sacred architecture, said once in an interview on the Golden Mean that, “high-rise buildings looking like filing cabinets are exactly what they express: they are very efficient at filing human beings and filing objects and filing technology, but they have very little to do with what we would call the fuller meaningful dimensions of being human. They are really mechanistic solutions to mechanistic questions. They leave one with a sense of abandonment.” He went on to describe how architecture can aid in the raising of consciousness as does the Chartres Cathedral for instance and others too now that I think about it like Frank Lloyd Writes’ Water Fall house. He tells how difficult it is for all of us to raise consciousness from the naval area to the heart which is most of the esoteric and non esoteric goals. Just as your tee pee, Deborah, brought you immediately to that sense of the sacred and I’m willing to bet that it was your heart that sense it first. My point is this; and I’m well aware that my view is not a popular one; there HAD to be a down fall of the American way. There, I said it! And to me your painting says it too. We can’t go on like this. The two towers stood for everything we have become as a society…mechanistic, good at filing and storing lots of information, some of it good information, some of it dangerous like atomic blasts. The fall of the two towers is a tragic irony…it took all those lives lost for Americans to find their hearts. Not just America but the world. And the towers and the deaths were just the beginning; our government, our economy, our very neighbors turned out onto the streets with children in lunch programs. I don’t like it, not one bit and I’m afraid of what’s to come but I believe with all my heart that the down fall of the “American Way” is necessary. We all need to get down to ground zero. And if we don’t do it willingly, then by God (and I do mean that literally) it WILL happen. We all know that nature has a way of keeping balance. And nature is much more than the trees and the toads. Quantum Physics has taught us that. Stuff happens and there’s no such thing as coincidence. But it doesn’t have to be so painfully tragic. We can listen with our inner ears to the One that knows the way. We knew how to do that once but our species has forgotten for the most part. We are an amazing people in an amazing land in a scary but amazing time of transition. I for one, would like to hear from those of you that DO know how to listen. This new myth that Deborah is trying to piece together is interesting in that we hear it first inside, we piece it together with what another hears, we begin to see a pattern in similarities, we gain confidence and strength in numbers and before you know it we have a new story. A story that we begin to tell and live at opportunities that arise. Pretty soon we are living our story and it then becomes a myth right down to our DNA. Carl Jung said the artist announced what is to come. Deborah has painted us a picture of embracing our truth, our beauty, our folly, our responsibility.

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    • Deborah J. Milton says:

      thank you Shannon for the breadth and depth of your comment. Critchlow’s “file cabinet architecture” hits a responsive chord in me. Reminds me of a women who attended one of our creativity workshops ( co-facilitated with my colleague Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, Ph.D. ) in Yellowstone National Park who realized as she re-souled herself in the wild landscape that she could go for months and months without ever seeing the sky or feeling the rain/sun as she walked on a busy sidewalk…she lived 30 floors up, took the elevator down to the bowels of the building where she walked in a tunnel to the subway and then took an elevator up to her office…back down and up at the end of the day enclosed all the while by bricks and mortar.

      Something about “getting down to ground zero” hits my belly truth!

      thank you for sharing.

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