Russian Blog 8. DOSTOYEVSKY’S “THE IDIOT”: GREAT PSYCHOLOGICAL INSIGHT, BUT “IDIOT” SPIRITUALITY? My last quest in Russia. Carter Vincent Smith December 2010

1. ALEXANDER NEVSKY MONASTERY CEMETERY.

 I’m standing in the snow in the Alexander Nevsky Monastery cemetery looking at a marble image of the great Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky —  searching for inspiration in his cold stone  eyes.

 As part of a three-month theater project in St. Petersburg Russia, I am writing about Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot”. I’ve been pulled from my warm apartment by the hope that the master’s tomb can give me some insight into my irritation and even revulsion at his book.

 It is only October, but snows come early to this city twelve hundred miles farther north than Maine.  The sun skims the horizon in the winter as icy winds blow from the Baltic.

 It took the iron  determination of the Russian giant genius-tyrant-tsar Peter the Great  to build this city on a swamp of a river delta in the middle of nowhere.  Peter wanted a sea port to Europe, killed off some protesting Swedes, sacraficed forty thousand serfs building it and moved his capital here in 1710. Today, the city has grown to five million and is a beautiful tapestry of canals, broad prospekts, palaces, monuments, and soaring cathedrals (and dreary Stalin apartment blocks outside of its lovely center).

In Dostoyevsky’s complex novel (SEE INSET), Prince Myshkin comes home to Saint Petersburg in the mid 1800’s after treatment for epilepsy in Switzerland.  He is gentle, sweet, kind, generous and compassionate — a sort of Russian messiah coming down the mountain to help his fellows.

 But his innocence and naivety (“idiocy”) is ridiculed by the jaded, greedy and corrupt Russian society. He falls in love with a sweet young heiress, but in an act of misplaced compassion for a “fallen” dark beauty, he abandons his beloved — who, broken hearted and betrayed, hurls herself into a disastrous abusive marriage.  The dark beauty agrees to marry him, but full of self-hatred, she bolts at the altar to run off with the Prince’s malevolent friend — who is obsessed with a need to posses her and eventually murders her.   Finally, the Prince returns in despair to the Swiss sanitarium leaving behind total disaster — his friend in a Siberian prison, his beloved ruined, and the fallen beauty murdered.  Messiah indeed!

 I’m irritated at the wimpy-vacuous-naive idiocy of Dostoevsky’s supposed Christ Figure Prince Myshkin, and irritated at the greedy-grasping-gossiping idiocy of the 19th century Russian society that destroys him.

My irritation has carried me out thru the steel doors of my apartment, down the murky stairwell, into the cold drizzly snow, across the cobblestoned street, into nearby Alexander Nevsky Monastery, and along their ancient cemetery wall to a hulking tomb, where I stop and look directly into the cold marble eyes of the master himself.

So, Fyodor, do you have an answer for me? What a crazy erratic life you led — with your abusive alcoholic dad and your sporadic epileptic fits. Your early writing success apparently gave you a big head and a big mouth, irritated the Tsar, and landed you in a Siberian prison — clanking miserably around in leg irons for four years. Your love of a suffering Christ deepened and sustained you there. After prison, but still in exile, you became obsessed with the beautiful but indifferent Maria. And you pestered, pursued and, after her husband died, eventually got her  — only to have an epileptic fit on your wedding night. Geez. But you kept going, driven to writing some of the world’s most admired and insightful literature –producing more in a day than I do in weeks. Success! And yet that existential angst you described so well never left you. Like some whacky masochist, you seem obsessed with suffering. You were so fascinated with Holbein’s rotting body of Christ that your wife had to drag you away from it for fear its grip on you would induce an epileptic fit. And then you describe this disgusting image in “The idiot” — a book you said was about “positively beautiful individual”. [Yeeps! What were you thinking? ] 
  
  

Sadly, you never found a way to sustain the flash of true spirituality and deep peace you did experience at times – like in a lover’s smile or just prior to an epileptic fit.  No wonder your unresolved pain drove you to abuse your wives and throw your book earnings away on your gambling addiction.

But hey, I too know the deep pain of self inflicted addiction. I lived in it till my recovery at age thirty-seven. So, as a brother sufferer, could you give me a little insight here Fyodor?

Waiting for some response or inspiration, I glance upward at the circle of white wet snow perched on top of the master’s solemn stone head. It looks ridiculous — a silly Jewish yarmulke on top of this ever suffering Christian.

Stifling a giggle, I breath in the cold clear air and become aware of the rest of the cemetery. Tchaikovsky is flanked by two angels to help him on his heavenly way. Falling snowflakes dance like the sixty floating white ballerinas we saw at his Swan Lake in the fabled Mariinskiy theater last week. And then Rimsky-Korsakov’s nearby tomb seems to serenade me with bitter-sweet melody of Scheherazade . My mood lightens with these soaring floating memories and I start to open to the source of my irritation with Dostoevsky and his weak and ineffectual Christ figure.
 

2. MONASTERY CAFÉ

 I walk to the nearby monastery café, order green tea, and pull out my notebook computer. Ideas swirl in my head like the snowflakes outside the window.

The book just pisses me off. While Dostoyevsky was a great author, he seems to have had no conception of true enlightenment — or the POWER available to those that have penetrated the illusion of self and have no fear. They are neither weak nor necessarily sweet or gentle or kind to others ego’s. Their goal is to WAKE us up — to help us penetrate the illusion of our own foolish beliefs. Some are really scary because you know they can see right through all your protective ego masks and games.


The 103 year-old Sasaki Roshi is an example – he takes no shit from anyone – just like Christ in the temple — he is FIERCE.

Dostoyevsky does have powerful insight into how people functioned psychologically. And as a forerunner of early existentialism, he accurately points out our sick ego games and the futility of trying to achieve true peace, joy and fulfillment by controlling and manipulating the phenomenal world.

But he had no clue about a solution. He just wallows around in a sewer of negative thought. Existentialists have limited insight into the peace, wisdom, fearlessness, and lasting fulfillment that can be found in daily life by connecting to the infinite power of spirit [or source, god, etc.].

It is the power that I personally access and connect with before I break a board in Tai Kwan Do or that Gracie, my friend’s 93-year-old Jiu-Jitsu master (93!), accesses before he picks a young stud off his back and hurls him across the ring.

It is the power that I have felt radiating from the Dali Lama in Dharamsala or Thich Nhat Hanh in Los Angeles as they lead thousands in retreats or face down powerful governments.

It is the power that I personally, my teacher Shinzen and his teacher, Sasaki Roshi, access to penetrate the ego defenses of our students — so they can also connect to that power.

It is a power that taps into the exhilarating and joyous life force I have felt skiing the wall, walking on fire, making love on mountain tops, or body-surfing hurricane waves.

It is connection to that infinite power or source energy that, to me, can be called “true spirituality” or “true compassion” — wise, fearless, clear, powerful, joyful, unlimited.
Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa wrote a book called “Cutting through Spiritual Materialism” about the need to cut through our futile ego tendency to seek happiness with the material trappings of religion. He also coined the term “idiot compassion” in which our ego futilely seeks happiness by trying to please other egos (“people-pleasing”). Idiot compassion may be kind, gentle, forgiving, sweet, even self-sacrificing, but it actually traps rather than frees others in their own destructive ego patterns. In modern terms it is called “enabling”(like buying drink for an alcoholic) or “people-pleasing”. It is ultimately self-defeating and harmful to others.

So Prince Myshkin, the idiot namesake of the novel, could easily be branded with an idiot compassion that led to his own self-destructive return to the sanitarium, to his friend’s imprisonment, his beloved’s ruin and to the murder of the girl he tried to save.

This is really unskillful spirituality — in fact the term “idiot spirituality” springs to mind.

3. MONASTERY CATHEDRAL.

Contemplating these ideas, I leave the café, walk thru the clear crisp snow and carefully climb the icy steps to the monastery cathedral. I push thru the heavy wooden doors into overwhelming steamy heat and noise. Crowds of overheated people in damp clothes, clouds of incense from burners shaken by monks, and the rich smell of wax candles the pilgrims light as they pray to the many icons. Baptized babies cry, tourists gawk and whisper, monks chant, and choir answers in lovely counterpoint. I flush and tear up from the sheer rich feast of life in this sacred place.

I wind my way thru the crowds to the reliquary of Alexander Nevsky. He was a 13th century warrior prince for hire who saved the medieval Russ city-state of Novgorod by killing a bunch of Swedes and Germans and bribing the invading Mongols. And  for doing that, the Russian church made him a saint and Peter the Great founded this monastery in his name — immediately after Peter himself killed a bunch of Swedes to establish this impossibly northern port city and new Russian capital in 1710.

Prince Alexander Nevsky’s statue in the city plaza, the huge mosaic in the nearby metro and many paintings show him on a rearing horse with flashing sword smiting his enemies. But the monastery icon behind his reliquary shows him in the pure and perfect realm of iconography. Somehow those crazy Russians made this warrior into a saint. I join the pilgrims in lighting a candle – sensing Alexander’s contradictions offer me some insight into my “Idiot” puzzle.

Part of the answer is waiting for me at the little booth selling candles, books and copies of icons. There, in delightful serendipity, I meet a handsome Russian born tourist from Santa Barbara who makes his living painting and restoring icons. Amidst the moving murmuring pilgrims and monks, we have an animated conversation and he points out an icon of Alexander holding a sword. He explains that the Prince did a courageous and skillful job of keeping Novgorod independent by defeating the Europeans in the west and negotiating with the Mongols to the east. He is considered Russia’s greatest hero — the George Washington of Russia. He was also a deeply religious man who retired from his plush castle to an ascetic monk’s cell.

We have tea in the café and examine the idea that Nevsky was a deeply spiritual and powerful warrior prince like Buddhism’s Prince Siddhartha, Hinduism’s Prince Arjuna, Judaism’s’ King Solomon, or Islam’s Prophet Muhammad.

In any case, the Prince Alexander seems to have deserved his canonization and to have tapped much deeper into real spiritual power than the wimpy make-nice efforts of Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin.

Parting from my new friend with a promise to meet again in sunny Santa Barbara, I walk past the old cemetery and reflect that, while Dostoyevsky had many deep insights, human consciousness has developed greatly in the last 150 years since he wrote “The Idiot”.Dostoyevsky’s concept of spirituality was likely connected to the idea we need to escape from this messy world to the pure sweet ascetic realm — rather than connecting and using that spiritual power to penetrate our egoic delusions and projections in this relative world. This pure realm is often depicted in Russian icons.

So how does Dostoyevsky fit into the stages of evolution of consciousness. As we have evolved from tribal to agriculture-state to modern-scientific-rational to post-modern and beyond, so have many aspects of our consciousness and culture. Our technology, economics, consciousness, art, morality and even spirituality are all developing and evolving. Dostoyevsky’s writing was heavily influenced by the rapidly developing modern European view, but his view of spirituality seemed stuck in the Russian iconography of the middle-ages.

As I unbolt the steel doors to my apartment, I decide that tomorrow I will explore this idea at the world-famous Hermitage Museum.

 

4. HERMITAGE EXPLORATIONS. 

The Hermitage is an architectural wonder and a Louvre sized museum at the opposite end of Nevsky Prospekt from the monastery. It is in the imperial palace complex built by Peter and his descendants.

So, the next day, my itch to clarify “The Idiot” is carrying me thirty stories underground into Stalin’s combination metro, nuclear bomb shelter, and art exhibition hall. On the three-minute escalator ride down, I recall that a lifetime ago America and Russia had a standoff defense policy called MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction.

As a young mathematician at Boeing, I had a job comparing the “efficiency” of nuclear weapons systems supporting our MAD defense strategy. My computer programs determined the number of Russians killed per billion dollars cost for MAD alternatives. Startled by the memory, I look warily around at my fellow escalator riders — happily, they are oblivious.

The extreme depth of the metro also takes it under the city’s waterways. Only a tyrant like Peter the Great would decree that Russia’s new capital and port city be built on deserted boggy river delta in the frozen north at the cost of 40,000 lives.

At the bottom, I walk with crowds of rushing Russians (eager today to explore capitalism’s opportunities) a half mile thru tunnels and stairways to get to my train — passing on the way a huge bronze of Prince Alexander killing Swedes. I am crushed onto the train, catch glimpses of other art-filled stations, and am then expelled a few minutes later to ascend another interminable escalator to the surface.Canals, palaces, cathedrals, eager men and long-legged Russian beauties greet me as I make my way up Nevsky Prospekt to the Hermitage.


I cross Palace square, flash my card at the Friends entrance, walk past Greek statues, Roman gods and Egyptian mummies to the earliest exhibits of human development — and stand staring at a naked woman with huge breasts, hips, thighs, and vulva.

She was made with great care and reverence some 22,000 years ago at the tribal or “magic” stage of human development when our consciousnesses were still imbedded in our natural surroundings. Trees and deer and figurines and human flesh were full of magic and power — to be worshiped or even eaten for their power. It was also a time where women gathered half the food and shared greater power.

Then, 5000 years ago, we invented plough agriculture — a technology that enabled one strong man to feed many others. Cannibalism waned but the patriarchy waxed and we invented god-kings, priests, scribes, religions, armies, slavery and lots of other supporting rules and roles to control that surplus of food. Our natural spirituality was controlled with formal structured religions that emphasized ascending from this dreary messy world to the pure lands of heaven.

I trace the gradual changes in this stage in the art of the Hermitage — Egyptian mummies, Roman gods, feudal armor, and medieval icons.

This traditional or “mythic” mindset dominated human culture for many thousands of years — and still predominates in much of the world from conservative Islam to the bible-belt.

About 500 years ago, our natural creative desire led us to rebel against the suffocating church-state orthodoxy and a modern-rational-egoic-scientific consciousness started to develop. Free of the mythic mindset, science, technology and economics blossomed — eventually leading to printing, market economies, the industrial revolution, democracy, increasing power for women, and the end of slavery.

The museum traces this era with Renaissance, modern, and post-modern art. Suddenly art depicts real people doing real things — and then stretches that. It is a radical change from icon purity.

But tragically the modern and post modern abdicated spirituality to the old religions — leaving a deep dark hole where we need to connect to the power and juice of spirit — existential angst some call it. Rational thought is a useful tool for manipulating the physical world, but useless in connecting to life’s meaning.

We are only today finally evolving a mature rational stage of consciousness (called “Integral”) that includes a fully developed integration of spirituality and rationality — pulling from eastern mysticism, experiential meditation and western science. Unlike the mythic asceticism that tried to escape the world, this new spirituality uses spiritual power to fearlessly enliven and infuse the world with power and meaning.I see this evolution toward integral spirituality directly on the walls of the Hermitage — from the light and magic of Renoir to the freedom of Kandinsky.

But Dostoyevsky was obviously imbedded in the transition phase — and further handicapped by the dark Russian culture. The Russian elite of the time could see the increasing freedom and enlightenment of Europe and compare that with the far more repressive political atmosphere of Russia.

The elite of the time, Dostoyevsky with them, had lost connection with any true powerful connected spirituality — and thus Dostoyevsky presented us with this wimpy spiritual replica, Prince Myshkin, meek, sweet, loving, and kind — but without the wisdom, clarity and power of true spirituality.

So I leave the Hermitage with some understanding of my irritation with Dostoyevsky’s “Idiot Spirituality”.

But that does not clarify why I can no longer even pick up the book to read it. Reading a novel is for me like entering a world and living in it – and my reaction to Dostoyevsky’s world is like my cat’s reaction to his travel box when I am going to take him to the vet — all four paws out resisting with all his might. I can read about Dostoyevsky’s world, but the thought of picking up the book and entering it makes me nauseous.

So I decide to let this essay go for a while — to stop worrying about my strange reaction to “The Idiot”. The answer, I feel, will come, if I just relax and enjoy this wonderful country.


 

5. RUSSIAN TRAVELS.

So I walk the streets of this beautiful city — bridges and shops and museums and churches and canals — palaces and cathedrals. Here is the dazzling Church of the Spilled Blood on a winter morning, built to commemorate the murder of Alexander II — the reformist Tsar who freed those serfs and might have brought Russia into the modern era if he had not been murdered. And nearby, over the frozen Fontanka canal is the Sheremetiev palace — the town house of my friend’s grandfather — whose family at one time owned 200,000 serfs — 200,000 men women and children!

I take my wife to theaters — most memorable is a night at the famed Kirov ballet seeing Swan Lake. Pure magic.


 
I help our wonderfully talented Russian repertory theater group — called Pokoleniy. They have had to move from the historic Peter and Paul fortress and we help build out a new theater space in a rough 19th century warehouse on Lahtinskaya.

 We also support these marvelously talented and rigorously trained Stanislavsky actors as they interweave body and emotion to evolve wonderfully impactful scenes and plays. One is an affair between a German and a Russian who use the language of love to transcend any mere language barriers. It opened in Russia and Germany to standing ovations. 

I travel to Novgorod to see the ancient city that Prince Alexander Nevsky saved. Dawn is at 9:30; temperatures are below zero. More castles and cathedrals and statues. Most memorable was kids laughing and riding in sleighs in the moat outside the fort that must have run with blood during Alexander’s time.

 I go to Pushkin Park and down the steps to the Stray-dog Art Café to the English speaking recovery meeting. It is where poets and artists and intellectuals plotted the 1917 Russian revolution — and now four or five of us sit around a small table plotting our continued sobriety.  I talk about how the different customs and language and even the Cyrillic alphabet has continuously knocked me off center. From the minor irritations of buying ground pork instead of beef, or getting off at the wrong subway stop — to the anger-fear-shame emotional roller coaster of being pick pocketed twice!

During my 30 years of recovery, I have learned to lean into those roiling emotions and physical sensations — to breathe deeply into the open space of breath and spirit — and from that deep spiritual connection of trust-love-clarity-power — take the needed actions — call banks in America — put my money in my secure travelers wallet — be awake (and not afraid) in the subway crush — and continue to enjoy my stay in this beautiful city.

 We share our desperate dark lives before recovery — and how the recovery program helped move into the sunlight of the spirit. Two members tell of the dreary life under the Soviets and the desperate problems in the initial post-soviet period only ten to twenty years ago — and how now there is a sense of optimism and possibility and self-empowerment among the Russian people today.

We emerge from the dark café to see children in laughing in Pushkin park. 

 I travel by the Sapsan high speed train to Moscow. The overhead sign reaches 230 KPH and minus 30 Celsius as we speed over the rolling white forests of western Russia . Small country dachas, farms, occasional towns with Stalin era tenements flash by. Finally Moscow — I join the river of Russians moving to the metro.


 For most of my adult life Red Square by the Kremlin represented the “evil empire” where Stalin reviewed tanks and goose stepping soldiers from Lenin’s tomb at the time of our MAD strategy. But this now it houses skating rinks, laughing children, Christmas trees, and colorful churches.
I wander thru a few forts, churches and museums, listen to carolers and buy some trinkets and ice cream at the huge but lovely Gum department store, visit the famed Bolshoi Ballet, and fall asleep on my warm bunk on Nikolaevsky Express home — arriving the next morning just as the Sapsan express is leaving. A remarkable 24 hours.

At last, our 90 day business visa’s are up and it is time to say goodbye to this incredible city.  We pack up our apartments, lock our steel doors for the last time, slip and slide on the snow to the airport, endure two security lines and an eight-hour delay in a blizzard, make it to Berlin, endure more security, more snow, and more delays there. And then, like Prince Myshkin, we retrace our incoming flight back to Switzerland.

After more snow delays, we finally escape Zurich and I pull out my laptop for our 12 hour flight home to LA. I have already written about why Dostoyevsky’s “Idiot Spirituality” irritates me. Now I need to write about why his world repels me.

                                6. HIGH OVER THE ARCTIC.
 

Thirty-five thousand feet over the arctic. We have been chasing the sunset since we left Zurich and as I work on this essay, I glance down and am startled to see, not endless clouds, but the sunlit crystal ice cliffs of Baffin Island. We are half-way home.

I’m reading the introduction to Dostoyevsky’s “Notes from the Underground”. It describes the dark-dismal world of the underground man — and his brief dream of escape during white nights. And I flash on the memory of coming out of the recovery meeting in the dark underground art café to see the bright laughing face of a child in Pushkin Park. I have my answer.

I personally and intimately lived in Dostoyevsky’s world of darkness and addiction for twenty long years prior to my recovery. I lived in fear, despair, and self-hatred. Even suicide did not lead to escape. Each time a small ray of hope would shine, it would get smashed and I would get more and more depressed. I was as addicted to negative thoughts as I was to alcohol. A swirling sewer of stinking negativity with each negative thought attracting more negativity — and negative people — and miserable times — thus proving that I was right about what shitty world this is and what a miserable shitty human being I was and how terrible and screwed up all the people in my life were. Reading Dostoyevsky took me back all to vividly too that hell-hole of no escape.
So my revulsion of Dostoyevsky’s world is driven by my personal escape from that dark world to one of positive light and life and love — but the pull of his negative darkness still sucks on me — threatening to pull me down into that miserable swirling cesspool of negativity.

And the tools of reason and psychology are no help in that dark pit for me personally — or for the denizens of Dostoyevsky’s dark world. Reason only ties the web together tighter. Psychology only examines the pieces of shit in more detail

Dostoyevsky had flashes of the light of true spirituality — his wife’s love, the sight of a mother nursing a child, his release from prison, his Christian beliefs, or sometimes just prior to an epileptic seizure.

But he was so addicted to the negative that his wife had to drag him away from his fascination with Holbein’s repulsive rotting painting of Christ. And on another trip Dostoyevsky wrote his wife: “I am reading the Book of Job, and it brings me to a state of feverish ecstasy.” Yeeps! Sounds like a poster boy for the M part of S&M.

My own answer came from finding glimpse of real hope in recovery meetings — that others who lived in that dark world of negativity and addiction had escaped — and just maybe I could too — I could start focusing on the light and not the darkness.

In meditation one learns to decide to follow the open space of the breath — and — if the mind wanders simply come back to the breath.

The secret, I have found to living in the sunshine instead of the darkness is simply to notice when my mind has wandered into the negative — and gently refocus on something — anything more positive. Sounds simple — but the old addictive pull is strong. — and of course that pull attracts more negative thoughts which attract more – which gets agreement from others as to how awful it is — which leads actual negative events which reinforce the whole dismal world. We have to STOP and reverse that spiral.

This “positive thinking” is not covering up shit with chocolate — but a deliberate decision to connect to my own deep positive spiritual experiences. Even Dostoyevsky had them — a sunset, a child or lover’s smile, a soaring symphony — to connect to true joy. And then I can expand from there — to look at my world from that place of deep peace, power, freedom, wisdom, and joy. And somehow, bit by bit — my world can start to respond to that positive thinking and action.

And for the last thirty years I have learned to really live life — to come back in balance from sicknesses, divorce, bankruptcy, firings, and rejections to stay sober and joyously find the love of my life, the love our six children, and help many others find a good life on this planet.Looking down on the icy world below, I say goodbye to Dostoyevsky’s dark world, and to modern Russia. I wish them well as they expectantly enter this chaotic but hopeful world of democracy and free markets.

Soon I will be back in LA. I hear it is very warm for December — in the 80’s. I smile. I surfed the day we left in August.  Maybe I can catch a few winter storm waves on our return.

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Blog 7 Swan Lake, Thanksgiving, Hermitage, Novgorod, Moscow, Red Square,

Blog 7 Swan Lake, Thanksgiving, Hermitage, Novgorod, Moscow, Red Square,

In a snow storm on the day before Thanksgiving, Franny and I went to the famed Mariinskiy Theater (arguably the best opera/ballet in the world) to see an magical performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with 60+ floating twirling ballerina’s on stage plus nearly as many soaring men.

First we had an elegant dinner at the Theatro restaurant across the street (you can see the theater thru the window)


Franny in our box seat.


Some of the magical dancers.


 

Franny cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the Americans here (plus a few Russians). It was a 32 pound turkey — and I had to hack it in half with a hammer and butcher knife. . Looked like a side of beef that hangs in a walk in freezer! Franny cooked half for dinner and half for take-home. But a great dinner. Started at noon and lasted till midnight.

 

Then did another Hermitage and Winter Palace trip for more wonderful art and architecture inside, and a few pictures of winter scenes thru the windows.

 

 

 

Last week the temperatures dropped to zero with wind chill of minus 20 or so. And I got up at 530 to take day a day trip to Novgorod the ancient Russian city state that Alexander Nevsky saved in 1250ad.

 

Here is the sun rising on the bus trip at 930.


Here is a statue celebrating the ?tri-century anniversary of Russia.

 

Then I rode the high speed train to Moscow (took the sleeper back). Alt one point in the 4 hour ride, past the endless snow covered Russian steep and forest, the electronic sign said:

Speed: 230 kilometers per hour

Temp: -30 degrees Celsius (about minus 25 F)

COLD.

My train.


 

Carter at the Kremlin in the freezing cold.

 

RED SQUARE. For most of my life, Red Square just outside the Kremlin would symbolize the EVIL EMPIRE that threated to wipe out America and the whole world with a nuclear holocaust. With the evil Stalin who murdered tens of millions of his own people reviewing tanks and goos-stepping troops troops from Lenin’s tomb.


Today it is friendlier with Gum department store ablaze with light’s, Christmas trees, colorful onion dome cathedrals, and Lenin’s tomb and the Kremlin on the right.


Besides the Christmas tree, there is a sort of bouncy skating rink in the middle where the tanks used to rumble by.

And here is a view of the other end. A sort of Russian Disney land.


 

My AA business friends from Finland and Denmark say Russia is really supportive for small-middle sized businesses. The folks we meet here seem optimistic and forward looking, a far cry from the dismal soviet times.

We will be home soon. Our love to all .

 

Carter.

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Blog6a Nov16, 2010 Russia

Blog6a Nov16 — A day in my life in Russia

Its been over 3 weeks since I last blogged. We have done museums, parks, cathedrals, ballet, opera, puppet theater, and started getting our new Pokoleniy theater in to shape for the grand opening.

 [see www.pokoleniy.com ]
 A spiritual teaching I find useful is that we are spiritual beings (from infinite Source energy) who are extending and creating ourselves into a human experience/illusion. Our world offers wonderful contrast (hot/cold, big/small, alive/dead, good/bad) based on limits. Our reactions to experiences of contrast generates creative new experiences/actions that expand our universe. The trick seems to be to keep our spiritual connection or balance while riding the wave of creative contrast.
 

And here in St. Pete, I see contrast and its results all around me. The city itself — a creation of Tsar Peter in determined reaction to being cut off from the west. The 300 foot deep bomb shelter / metro station I see out our window — a reaction to the threat of nuclear war and a city built on a river delta. The golden spires and angels adorning all the churches — a yearning reaction to the plodding and sometimes dismal life on the planet. And of course the wonderful art and theater events that are creatively inspired by the contrast between the limits of earth and the boundless joy of Source.

A day in my life in St. Petersburg.

My little wrist alarm wakes me at quarter to 8. It is black and cold. Dawn won’t be for over an hour. I snuggle in the warm bed next to Franny, but remembered that there is a production meeting at 10 for the new play. So I get up, do my ablutions and then six “Salute to the Sun” yoga asanas — a dozen stretching movements each that assure “a most flexible body for all lifetime.

Then I prepare my meditation seat on the bed beside Franny and quietly sit there to do various breathing and visualization routines. I also include some time on using the “Truth Process” on some seemingly restrictive emotional situations:

HUMAN PROCESS. Dive into the ego emotion of the negative or restricting experience. Deepen the feelings. The victimization. Feel the historical habitual patterns that started as a small child. Go as deep as possible.
SPIRITUAL PROCESS. Then expand my conscious awareness to transcend and penetrate the ego-delusion that I am a victim (of my own illusions). I remember the truth — that I (my expanded self) created this miraculous illusion of good/bad contrast. I take back my power — and truly appreciate the creation (experience), the creator (me – small and large), and the whole wonderful creative process.

So I find this easier said than done. I took many years to develop the good/bad judgmental victim delusion and have been working with this technique only a few months. Intellectually I know I am an unlimited source/creator spiritual being, but little Carter still sucks his thumb, tears up or throws a tantrum when things do not go his way. [Or the more subtle fear avoidance that has kept me from writing this blog for 2 weeks and a trip to Moscow for 2 months.]

I rise from meditation after an hour, have my oatmeal and coffee and gather my stuff to go out: wallet, passport, keys, notebook and pen, bag with camera, book, guidebook, maps, backup papers and money — sweater, jacket, hat and gloves. I kiss Franny goodbye (she is taking a day off) unlock and relock the steel door, descend the stairs, exit the second steel door to the cold dark drizzle outside.
I join the river of Russians entering the metro, insert coin in slot and descend the 30 story escalator to the combination metro, nuclear bomb shelter, and art exhibit.

 The crush of people is moderate on the orange line, but when I transfer at Spasskaya, it gets intense — thousands of Russians streaming through the station, up/down stairs, thru the deep underground tunnels, and up/down short escalators to the blue line that can take me under the Neva River to Chkalovskaya station where the theater is. To someone who has driven for 50 years with only brief trips to NY, Boston, or Italy, this rush-walking is a contrast. But after 2 months, my patterns and mind-chatter are starting to shift to walking rather than driving — and I get irritated like I do driving (jeez – watch where you are going. Stay to the right stupid.) But watching the many gorgeous micro-skirted Russian women would be the death of me if I were really driving.
The throng pushes me out and up the long escalator into the dark freezing rain and the 15 minute walk on the narrow crowded sidewalks to the theater location at Lakhtinskaya Ulitsa 26. Then push the bell for the iron gate opening person, walk thru the courtyard, and the dilapidated opening and up the scary stairway to our theater space on the second floor – and into the slightly cleaned up factory floor of the century old building.


All the windows are blacked out and the group is already huddled under a bare work light. The creative talent that the theater director, Danilla Korogodsky has drawn to this dim dusty crumbling warehouse in frigid dark Russia is amazing. Three Americans and an German have flown in to help – all prize winning designers/directors. Then there are 10 talented theater design students from America and India and a graduate from Danila’s MFA program who has worked professionally in the  LA /Hollywood area for the last 16 years.  Finally there are 20 or so amazingly talented Russian members of Theater Pokoleniy. Many are successful actors in TV and film. One has his own TV show. But they have all come to spend 10 or 12 hours a day for the next 10 days to learn and to create Peter-Burg — a show telling the rich 300 year life of this city. They will play angels and devils, bridges and boats, villains and lovers with a dedication, playfulness and imaginative intensity that it is hard for the non-theater person to grasp. [A friend says an actor lives for that occasional magical transcendent moment in the theater like a meditator lives for the magical taste of enlightenment.]

 The play is developing organically. The director has a theme he wants to follow — and throws out a challenge to the actors to come up with a scene to illustrate the idea — and they do! In the meantime we tech-types are building props, installing sound and lights and seats.

Later, I go to the British Book Store on the Fontanka Canal near the Sheremetiev Place to buy another Boris Akunin 19th century mystery, and walk 45 minutes down Nevsky Prospect thru the bracing icy drizzle to home.

 The next day Franny and I explored the 3rd floor of the Hermitage to talk to Cezanne and Picasso and friends.

From Russia, with Love,  Carter

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Blog5 Oct25 Habituating to Russia. When the extraordinary becomes ordinary. The Idiot, Christ, ballet, opera, cathedrals and Dom Knigi.

 

Blog5 Oct25 Habituating to Russia. When the extraordinary becomes ordinary. The Idiot, Christ, ballet, opera, cathedrals and Dom Knigi.

I have a friend and teacher, Shinzen Young, who has meditated and taught meditation for 40 years. He says that one change is that he wakes up fresh each morning excited about what the day may bring — like a nine year old on the first day of summer vacation. Each experience, each breath is new and fresh. I know that neurologists have shown that the brains of long term meditators are different from ordinary folks — and their fMR’s show this “brand new” or “lack of habituation” effect.

I guess I have not been meditating long enough because I am becoming habituated to this life in Russia. Yesterday I went over to the Mariinskiy Theater to buy some tickets and make sure that Franny could get a bus there tomorrow. So, I got my keys, camera, passport, wallet, phone, guidebook, map, vest, warm coat, gloves, metro tokens, etc — unlocked/locked inner and outer doors, descended 30 stories to the bomb-shelter and art-works subway, ascended at Senyanna Ploscad station, oriented myself, walked to the canal and along it for 20 minutes to the lion bridge, then to the Mariinskiy Theater, negotiated for the tickets, studied bus maps and schedules and where the stops are for Franny to use tomorrow, had some blini’s and coffee, took a bus to the House of Books, Dom Knigi, bought some maps and recalled that it was just across the street from the famed Kazan Cathedral, listened to a fabulous choir and sung liturgy, bought and lit three small candles for Franny, our relationship, and all of us, walked to the Gostinyy Dvor metro for the squashed like sardine ride back with scarcely a glance at the wondrous murals, frescoes, and sculpture that decorate the metro stations, and finally back thru the metal doors to our little abode.


//PICTURES  ABOVE // LION BRIDGE//MARIINSKIY THEATER//DOM KINIGI DOME//ME READING “THE IDIOT” IN DOM KINIGI COFFEE SHOP WITH KAZAN CATHETHRAL IN THE BACKGROUND//INTERIOUR OF KAZAN//MY THREE CANDLES 

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

On the way back I thought of our Monday writing seminar where we were challenged to create some writing about Doveskeyski’s “The Idiot” — where the author portrayed a truly good man as a bit of a simple fool who could not fit into regular society. He includes a painting of Christ by Holbein, and seems to suggest that Christ himself would have just as hard a time handling the intrigues of Russian 19th century society. 

The book just pisses me off. While D was a great author, he had no conception of true enlightenment — or the POWER available to those that have penetrated the illusion of self and have no fear. They may be good, they are neither weak nor necessarily sweet or gentle or kind to others ego’s. their goal is to WAKE UP” others to penetrate the illusion of their own foolish beliefs. Some are really scary because you know they can see right through all your protective ego masks and games. Sasaki Roshi, Shinzen’s teacher is an example – He takes no shit from anyone – just like Christ in the temple — he is FIERCE.

Doveskeyski does skillfully point out the sick ego games that people get involved with, but he had no solution. He just wallows around in a sewer of negative thought — just like the existentialists that followed him. [End of rant.]

///PICTURES//HOLBEINS CHRIST//SASAKI ROSHI (I was at his 100th birthday celebration 2 years ago and he is still whipping students into shape on Mount Baldy!)

Franny and I started on the Hermitage – visiting the just the first floor. I was taken by a roman sculpture of Jupiter — and another of Emperor Hadrian. He memorialized the fierceness of my Scottish ancestors by building a huge stone wall across northern England to keep them out. Purportedly they scared the shit out of the Romans by roaring into battle stark naked and painted blue. That what I call really going for it in playing this human game on the planet earth. Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to skiing “the wall”, surfing hurricane waves, marrying “the dragon lady”, or braving St. Petersburg darkening winter.

//PICTURES//HERITAGE//JUPITOR//HAPPY YOUTH IN PERPETUAL CONTEMPLATION OF WOMANS ROUNDED BEAUTY (Franny pointed this out)

 

 God bless all. From Russia with love blog# 5. October 27, 2010

  

Franny trying to catch a snow flake by the flower shop on our corner.


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Blog4 Oct19 Reflections on life from Alexander Nevski Monastery.

Blog4 Oct19 Reflections on life from Alexander Nevski Monastery.

 

Oct 19. Alexander Nevski Monastery. Sitting in cafeteria overlooking garden, cemetery and cathedral. The widows are steamy and it’s near freezing outside. Why am I here in this monastery in cold city in the far north where I can’t understand the language or even the letters? It’s expensive; Franny has very limited mobility; I was really getting going in sponsoring, teaching and writing back home; and I’m not a theater person. So the whole thing is whacky except for the light in Franny’s eyes when she said she wanted to come, and a quiet sure voice insde that said “go for it – you will learn and grow.”.

I’m pretty sure I came here to explore contrast — to learn and create — and to recognize and let go of my childhood habitual patterns of behavior (character defects) that I developed to protect me from a seemingly dangerous world — but which today block me from the vivid joyous experience of living in the Sunlight of the Spirit. This is the same reason I came to planet earth 73 years ago. As an infinite spiritual being, I came here to explore contrast and its creative possibilities — to ride the thrilling wave of life on the planet earth.

By starting as a helpless baby and creating the illusion of limitation, I got to generate all sorts of creative ideas: how to cry for help, how to eat, how to pout, how to walk, how to daydream, how to prove mathematical theorems, how to build computer models, how to use them to analyze nuclear weapon systems, how to get more money, how to make babies, how to raise children, how to surf, how to be happier, how to drink, how get happier without drinking, how to let go of my childhood protective patterns and fully appreciate this wonderful creative experience, how to re-connect with my true self or infinite spiritual self, and how to have fun writing blogs in monasteries in Russia.

Here in Russian it is very difficult for me to sink into complacency. At every turn there are prickles of new contrast. Getting out of the apartment with keys and passports, and money and cell phone and maps and camera and dictionary and satchel and undercoat and overcoat and hat and gloves and ….. Unlocking the wooden and steel front doors and then relocking them (we don’t lock doors at home) and descending the dismal stairway and pushing the magic button to open the outside steel door and avoiding getting trampled by the crowd rushing to the subway entrance by our apartment and avoiding getting crushed by the vehicles ignoring the cross walk and arguing with the monk over the need to pay 130 rubles just to get a cup of tea at their cafeteria and then realizing he speaks English and may be the AA-recovery guy I want to connect with and then looking for “blini” on the all Cyrillic café menu transliterating one letter at a timeб-л-и-н-ы” . . . . [My train of thought is interrupted by the bells of the monastery tolling the call to vespers. ]

Each little contrast shock provides me with the opportunity to dive into any negative emotion and then recall the truth — that I am an infinite being (a holographic extension of my higher power in AA terms) who is creating/attracting/projecting this miraculous illusion of separation and color and light/dark and hot/cold and joy/anger and … I am getting better at doing this recall and it has helped wonderfully in many situations — but I manage to remember only about 1% of the time. But 1% is a thousand times better than 0%.

When my pocket was picked in the crowded subway two weeks ago, I managed to come back from despair/ anger/ blame/ fear/ disillusionment and into alignment fairly quickly and then spend 4 hours on the erratic Skype phone answering security questions for American banks. The thieves were pro’s — jostling against me in a crowded subway — then handing off to another guy — then charging $7000-$12000 on the cards starting only 30 minutes later.

Why would I attract this situation? (If indeed, I did.) Well, I had somebody “feel me up” trying to get in my pocket earlier in the week. When I put on a different pair of pants that day I noticed how much easier it was to get into the front pocket where I was keeping my wallet. I felt a shiver of fear, but ignored the signal. So there I was sending out subtle “please don’t ROB ME” vibrations in the crowded subway — and ROB ME they did.

But I only partially processed this because two days later I had my camera picked out of my pocket while buying something from a street vendor outside the metro. And again the search thru all 12 pockets for the camera — the sinking feeling that its gone – it can’t be gone – but it really is – NOT AGAIN – it’s not fair – I am a malicious loser – Russians are all malicious thieves – I am soooo stupid – maybe I should just go home to California – Franny will know I am so spacy I can never take care of her.

[We all develop childhood patterns to protect us from a seemingly dangerous universe: angry confrontation, sweet appeasement, playing the clown, fearful shyness, etc. I developed a pattern of spacyness or vagueness. Then I really justified or solidified it by my “great scientist” aspirations — after all Einstein did not worry about such trivia as money or car keys. It is these patterns or character defects that we need to penetrate and dissolve to really live a vibrant joyous life on planet earth. ]

And so, standing by the metro on Nevskiy Prospekt, I breath in deeply and really sense all those feeling of loss and inadequacy — and then I breath in the open space and possibility of Source. I just let go of all the nagging little ego thoughts and remember that I am an infinite and beloved child of god.

And from that open space of god’s love it occurs to me that it is not the end of the world – not nearly as bad losing my wallet – and an idea pops into my mind. I could replace the camera for $150 or so at the nearby computer store — and that I did not need to whine or complain or even discuss the incident if I chose not to. I could just replace the camera and go on with my life — and most important I could let go of a bit of my childhood spacyness that blocks me from fully experiencing God’s wonderful universe.

And that is what I did.

From Russia with Love, Carter — Blog 4.

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Blog1 – September 8, 2010. – First report of Carter and Franny.

Blog1 – September 8, 2010. – First report of Carter and Franny.

 

Greetings from Berlin. Its cool and misty today. Franny wanted a day of rest so I decided to report.

While old, Berlin feels like a young and vital city, first rebuilt from the rubble of WW2, and then remolding and rebuilding itself as the capital of a unified Germany in the last 20 years. The view from the glass dome of the rebuilt Reichstag (where Hitler first took power) shows a city of ancient churches and modern towers.

Scary looking tattooed youths with nose-ear-lip-eyebrow rings, smile and offer to help me drag Franny’s wheel chair up the U-bahn stairs as business men and tourists rush by.

The leader of our expedition of 10 students is Cal State Theater Professor and set designer Danilla Korogodsky — an intense bearded Russian emegre who owns a St. Petersburg theater. He told us at the Brandenburg gate that 250,000 Russian soldiers died taking Berlin in World War II. Only 50,000 allied troops were killed in the famous Normandy invasion. The nearby Holocaust Memorial mourns the 6m Jews murdered (surprisingly, only 160,000 of them were German Jews). A total 70 million died in WW2, including 23m Russians and 7m Germans.

But humans have been killing humans forever — as is witnessed by all the blood-washed art work we have been seeing in Berlin museums and streets. Tribal wars, Roman treachery, feudal battles, and modern wars. The streets of Berlin are paved with the bloody rubble of past wars.

I believe that and each of us has contrasting dark and light parts – -that if we are pushed or manipulated far enough — are capable of the cruelty and murder that was manifest in WW2 and the holocaust. I hear that angry/victim edge often in the life stories of the alcoholics I sponsor.

But I also think that over the millennia we have been gradually enlightening/expanding our view of “who is human”. The in-group that is worthy of love and respect has evolved from tribe to state to world. Anthropologists tell us that in tribal times we violently killed a far greater percentage of our fellow humans than we did in the bloody last century.

 

CONTRAST: My operating belief is that we are really infinite spiritual beings who have decided to create this marvelous illusion of a human experience of contrasts: hot/cold, love/hate, large/small, light/dark, joy/sorrow, etc. So a part of me delights that while in 1940 Japanese, Americans, Germans and Jews demonized and killed each other, today we trade with and marry each other. I hid under a bed at Pearl Harbor as my father took his ship out to kill the wicked Japs – – – but 50 years later I found it deliciously ironic that my company was bought by the Japanese, and I really liked my new Japanese boss.

 

 

This Berlin/Russian adventure is definitely taking me out of my comfort zone. Stretching me and my habitual patterns in many ways. I would never have dreamed of doing this – too long – too dark – too costly – too strange a language, alphabet, culture – – but Franny’s eyes lit up at the idea and that was more important than all my whining and rationalization.

 

 

 

So, a week ago Monday, August 30th, we entered a jet propelled aluminum can and were soon looking out at a sunset over Los Angeles. A few hours earlier, I had been surfing in those warm Pacific waters. A few hours later, I woke from a doze to a sunrise over the frozen arctic where polar bears hunt seals. And a few hours after that I gazed down on the neat green fields and cute little Swiss doll houses outside of Zurich. And soon we were riding in a cab with Danilla thru the glistening neon lit streets of Berlin.

 

And while here we have ridden the U-bahn and S-bahn, visited museums and monuments, shopped, eaten in the many outdoor cafes, and gone to many plays (in German). Franny has had considerable pain and sometimes needs the wheelchair, but is out most days to museums, cafes, and plays.

 

 

MY GOAL. The goal of the mostly 20 something students here is to experience as many (external) sights and sounds — art work and theaters (and occasional night life) as they can. That is a worthy goal at their age — to build a rich repertoire of contrast.

While I’m not adverse to more external experiences, my major interest is internal. My operating world-view is that we come here to experience contrast.



First,
we (our expanded spiritual self) creates experiences (birth, helpless baby, large “all-powerful” parent-providers) that creates the illusion that we are a separate self (ego-body) and must learn to manipulate other/separate ego-bodies to survive. In the process, we usually lose our sense of (connection/union with our expanded spiritual self (True Self, Higher Power, God, Source, Soul, Universe, or whatever name you like). And thus, thinking the illusion is “real”, we experience fear, grief, confusion, lack and other negative emotions or sufferings that are indications that we (little ego-bodies) feel we are separate and disconnected from our True Self.


Next,
if we are lucky, we decide to reconnect, re-integrate, remember that we a really just a restricted part of our expanded, all-powerful, infinite True Self. Today my goal and path is to trust that each experience/illusion that comes to me is perfectly designed by my creative True-self or expanded-self to help me let go of my delusions that I am separate and vulnerable small-self (while not losing my hard-won ability to discern contrast). So when I experience negative emotion (or pain), it is not “bad”, but a wonderful opportunity to (1) dive deep into the feeling, and then (2) remember that I (expanded-self) created this illusion, that I (expanded-self) am a powerful creator of this experience, and to really appreciate how seeming real the illusion is, and really feel the True Joy of my whole creative Human experience – – to permanently break release some of the old (childhood) habitual patterns and to let more of the sunlight of the spirit shine on me.

 

Easier said in theory than done in the stress of the moment. According to model, Franny is a creative/projection/illusion of my expanded-self. But that model is a challenge to remember when I “create a situation” where Franny’s arthritis pain and my inattention makes me get her wheelchair stuck in the middle of busy Brandenburg Platz while she is shouting, cars whizzing by, and the trolly clanging nearer. Or when my old injuries have finally generated intense arthritis hip pain that won’t diminish no matter how I twist and turn in our small bed in the small hours of the night.

So in first 10 days of this path toward enlightenment, I’d give myself a 3 on a scale of 0 to 10. A long way to go, but far-far-far better than living totally in the delusion of victimhood. Indeed, I did stay cool when security at LAX found 2 box-cutters that Franny had accidentally packed with her art pencils. I thought our trip might end before we even got off the ground.

And generally, I may not catch myself on the spot, but after a stressful event, I usually do catch myself when I start to indulge in negative thinking — indulge in the ugly process of justification of why I am a victim of a bad dangerous world and its people. It is indulging in that sewer of negative thinking that led me to alcohol, anger and abuse of myself and my family — and led the world to the 70 million deaths and cruelties of World War II.

 

So the final goal of freedom from the delusion of victimhood is well worth it. When we have knocked out enough of the negative habitual patterns that block us from the sunlight of the spirit, each day becomes a joyous wild ride down the surface of this contrasting human experience — like the body surfing ride I once took bouncing down the huge rolling front of a hurricane built wave — laughing and screaming all the way.

 

Yours truly from Berlin, the city that human spirit rebuilt from the rubble of human folly. [And on to the city of 6 million that Peter the Great built from nothing on a desolate frigid swamp.]

 

Note — Franny thinks that Berlin, with their Holocaust and Jewish Museum memorials and open attitude shows the acceptance and redemption needed for forgiveness and healing — and for moving on.

 

I finally got to meditate today, tomorrow a meeting, Franny got a call here to about speaking up in Grass Vally – and here is a pic of her hanging out in the local punk vegetarian shop.

 

End of Blog 1 -Sep 8,2010

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Blog2 – September 27, 2010. – Second report of Carter and Franny

Blog2 – September 27, 2010. – Second report of Carter and Franny

Berlin was full of war and holocaust and memorials and renewal — and edgy edgy art — and scary tattooed be-ringed skinheads that hop of the trolley to help me carry Franny’s wheelchair on-board. Museums and plays and sidewalk café’s and trolly cars and a mile of the old Berlin wall colorfully painted by local artists instead of stained with the blood of freedom seekers.

 

RUSSIA. So I’ve been trying for over two weeks to describe this trip to Russia. A trip half way around the world to a country that for most of my life we were at “cold” war with, that does not speak our language or use our alphabet — to a city north of Junea Alaska where summer has no darkness, and winter has no light, where no city of 5 million should exist. A city of contrasts.

 


CONTRAST. I came here to support Franny, but also to explore using contrast to further my spiritual path. My negative reactions to contrast (if I am awake enough to notice them) provide me with the opportunity to break thru or dissolve those negative habitual patterns (character defects) that block me from the sunlight of the spirit — from my True Self and True Joy.

 

And there is plenty of contrast. Our apartment building is a Soviet era concrete monstrosity, but our 3rd floor apartment itself is spacious and light — with modern Russian-Ikea bathroom and kitchen. Double pane windows look our the front on to Nevsky Prospect — the Fifth Avenue of Petersburg — but the back windows look out on a dumpster used as a local urinal and possible gang hangout. But beyond the dumpster comes the happy voices of a children’s playground. We enter from the back thru double steel doors with electronic locks and giant keys to a dusty-dungeon stairwell reminiscent of ancient prisons or ghetto tenements.

To the left of the dumpster from our bedroom window, we can just see the metro escalator descending thirty stories into the earth to a subway system designed to withstand nuclear bombs and the pressure of the swamps and rivers Petersburg was built on.

 

Peter the Great, determined to have a port and entryway to “modern” Europe, built his capital city in 1703 on the mosquito infested swamps and islands of the Neva River delta with sweat and blood of Russian serfs and defeated Swedish soldiers. Forty thousand died. And yet it is a beautiful graceful city of canals and palaces and soaring cathedrals.

 

The major part is built inside a two mile loop of the Neva River — and our street, Nevsky Prospect cuts diagonally across that loop from the Famed Winter Palace and Hermitage on the north west to the Monastery gardens and cemetery that we look out on — Dostoyevsky is buried there.

 

Our leader is Cal State University Professor Danilla Korogodsky who teaches theater design in sunny Long Beach half the year — and runs a theater ensemble in Petersburg the other half. There are nine Americans (actually one is from India) — six twenty-somethings, Patsy, a middle aged playwright, and Franny and me. Five of the kids have an apartment across town, and we share an apartment with Nancy and Danilla’s Russian speaking (but American) step-son.

Nancy celebrated her 21st AA birthday, with caviar and vodka toasts (she abstained) on a small boat cruising the canals. The three of us went to meetings in Berlin and just attended a meeting here — at the 19th century Art Café next to Pushkin Square.

 

As I go for my frequent walks down Nevsky Prospect, I am struck with the youth and vigor of the people flowing by me. Tall, good looking men in black jackets, business men, and young women striding by in mini-skirts and 5 inch boots. Mini and micro skirts or tight jeans and high heels on the cobble stones are the rule. Most are fashionably dressed — very few older “babushkas”. Beggars and street folks are less frequent than in LA. It is a crowd on the move upward — and determined to get there. A very different Russia from the confused and impoverished times of 1990 post-soviet Russia, or the long lines and dark images of the Soviet era — and a very different Russia from the lanterns and coaches and princes and peasants of Dostoyevsky’s nineteenth century “the Idiot” — our assigned reading.

 

In our first class, Danilla amazed me by saying:

“Letting the infinite go to the finite is the way of human beings.”.

As an artist he expressed the spiritual truth that I am here to explore and make real in my life:

“I am an infinite spiritual being who is exploring a finite human existence of creative contrast.”

In the first phase of my human exploration, I used painful reactions to contrast (hunger bad, cold bad, fighting bad, loneliness bad) to convince my young self I was a vulnerable separate finite being who needed to make the world provide for my needs. In the second phase — since AA, and more intently of late — I work with the negative reaction to dissolve old patterns and to remind myself or reconnect with the infinite being (Higher Power) I really am. In the final and really fun phase (that I visit sometimes today), I bounce from contrast to creative expanded self without getting trapped in negativity.

It is easier to do this in theory than in the midst of things. Like when I realized we were on bus 22 instead of trolley 22, and then hurriedly jumped off, and then watched the bus disappear with $150 worth of Franny’s art books that I had left, and then had no idea how to get back to Nevsky in the middle of rush hour, and then faced an irate wife who can’t walk over 2 blocks with our severe pain. Breath Carter — breath in the anger/fear/self righteousness/disassociation and fuzziness — breath it in really feel the feelings — the feelings that have seperated me from the Sunlight since I learned them in childhood. And then recognize and really appreciate that I (big-I) created the whole wonderful dramatic scene – the lost trolly – the lost books – the irate wife – the confused feelings – the indecipherable russian signs and language and transportation system — for just this opportunity for little egoic me to recognize that I am not the victim of this scene but the creator of it. That I (big I) have all the power — infinite power and infinite joy — to really appreciate and celebrate that I am an infinite and joyous spiritual being having a wonderfully delicious creative experience. Lost on a street in St. Petersburg for God’s sake — who would have thought I could create such a wild moment 6 months ago!

Well that’s the theory – and sometimes I can do it on the spot — and sometimes it takes a while. But it does take away the sting of victimhood and makes each moment a precious opportunity.

 

So I understand it is 95 in LA today. It was a balmy 70 here yesterday, and dropped to a windy chilly 48 today. More contrast. Yesterday we had a party in Danilla’s apartment — built in the early 1800’s and overlooking the Fontonka canal. Lovely apartment and fun party — some of his actor troupe did some improvised skits. The Petersburg English AA contingent may meet at our apartment next week. Tomorrow we will go see Shakespeare’s Othello in Russian.

 

With love from Russia, Carter. End Blog 2 Sep 27

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