I began writing this article by going outside and repotting some plants. Procrastination? Maybe. However, I am embarrassed to say that I had let these poor plants become so pot-bound that they took a while to set free. I had to carefully cut at the plastic pots and gently untangle the roots that had interwoven through the small holes in the bottom. There have been occasions when a plant has been ripped out of its old pot, regardless of any root damage, but I try not to do this. For obvious reasons plants can die as a result. The plants are now in their new pots, although I shall have to size the pots up again as they will soon be outgrown again. But for now, at last, the plants can omnce again feel earth against their roots. They can breathe, so to speak. They can stretch out and nourish themselves in the fresh, rich, new soil. They have been freed up to grow. And to grow more healthily than before.
Of course, the roots held their shape as if they were still in their old pots, even devoid of any real earth left for them. It’s not like the roots suddenly flopped out, dangling from the plant and rejoicing at their newfound liberation. They have become so accustomed to the container’s boundaries, to their normality, that it will take a while for them to start growing out into their new space.
This simple act reminded me of the paradigm shifts that we make as humans. At the time of writing, we’re all still affected by COVID-19, and parts of the world are undergoing radical change on a large scale. Our collective unconscious is weighing heavily and the global pain is palpable—from natural crises, in the case of wildfires and extreme weather patterns, and social crises, in the case of extreme shifts in political power structures. On a small, individual scale, people’s lives are being forever altered. But these specific traumatic events are not exactly the subject I wish to dwell on here, as harrowing as they are. I was actually reminded of deep history—aspects of deep history that tie in with aspects of the world today, at both the subtle pervasive level and the brutal level, and how humans have changed and yet remain unchanged, merely morphing the cultures around us. Rip a culture out of its proverbial pot, lacerating roots, and it often won’t survive. But we humans often remain pot-bound, or at least hold on to our imagined pot space, even given the freedom to grow. Subjugation could be considered a theme today. My plant’s roots remained subjugated by their pots and the time that I kept them in containers that were too small. A strange analogy I know, but that’s how my brain works. And this tangential thought process will continue.
We modern humans like to think that we have built the most advanced society ever. After all, look at all the innovation we’ve managed in such a small blink of time. Yet I’m going to guess that most people throughout history have thought exactly the same way—especially during chapters that have spanned significantly longer than we have been playing this modern game. The humbling fact is that ages of ancient humans have spanned longer than the period that has elapsed between the end of their time to now! It’s hard for us to truly imagine time on such a vast scale: their thousands of years to our 200 years or so. And the damage we have done in that short time!
At some point in history it seems that the testosterone-fueled, sword-led, insecure need for power ripped out an egalitarian way of life and replaced it with something more repressive, something that too many are still facing today, killing cultures at their roots, powered by pot-bound thinking. Evidence of utterly different approaches to society are unearthed, yet we still broach this conversation through the filters we’ve become so accustomed to that we don’t even think to question them. The filters of a society dominated by imbalance and repression; we’re still pot-bound.
Ancient Egypt, Anatolia, the Etruscan civilization, the Indus Valley, Çatalhöyük, to name but a few, were apparently cultures who lived and thrived without social gender imbalances. They appear to have been cultures that celebrated the gifts we each bring to the table, celebrated creativity, trade, sensuality, and family units, rather than subjugation. Even in the Viking era, women held equal rights, yet today we are still surprised that this was, in the perspective of our times, “allowed.”
Even women were permitted positions of power/to own property/to divorce/to have successful jobs/to name their children/to inherit/to give things away by choice, popular narratives often declare. Or they describe female empowerment as something terrible—one description of the Ectruscians quavers that they were dominated by “the tyranny of women,” a concept only mitigated by possible egalitarianism. Maybe they were vile women? Obviously women have the same potential to be cruel as men, but we seldom see this kind of phrasing to describe male-dominated power balances. In the case of the Indus Valley, modern historians have described the bust of a relatively simply adorned male as a “priest king,” while images of heavily ornate women were dismissed simply as women of luxury rather than women who may have held the highest social rank at that time. Or, as in the case of a “dancing girl” figurine, women of entertainment. Perhaps they were all just women who enjoyed flaunting their bling and the rest were simply figurines, but biased judgments and the use of weighted language depict history in ways that may be way off the mark.
We should strive to be aware of our own fictions when looking at the past. Just like the common phenomena of infilling a personality when communicating with someone we’ve never met, or of idealizing an absent parent because they’ve not had to discipline us, assuming that every historical artifact and event must have had some religious or ritualistic meaning is highly presumptuous on our part. Maybe they were just pretty things for the same reasons that we collect things—we like them.
Uff! All this from repotting plants!
As a Buddhist, as an intelligent human living now, ask yourself just how many filters you still view the world through. Buddhists are generally encouraged to think about liberation from samsara, but often forget their time on earth and the biases we still hold. In this incarnation, I am in the meatsack of a woman with mitochondrial DNA that “remembers” and connects me in extraordinary and privileged ways. I feel the injustices to the feminine, the imbalances and subjugations, and in this life I choose to give voice to it and try to help in the small ways I can, to regain some balance in which the yin and yang energies may live synergistically.
Beyond questions and issues of gender though, check your filters; unpot yourself gently.
Tilly Campbell-Allen (Dakini as Art)
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