New Spamsterdam

“Is this the Dutch Village?” my friend Liz asked the big New York City cop standing by a turning windmill in Bowling Green Park in Manhattan.  “This is New Amsterdam,” said the cop with deadpan irony.   We had come all the way down from Northern Westchester in the rain and gloom,  so that I could walk through what The New York Times said would be a colonial village with “12 traditional houses, a windmill and a greenhouse.”   It was to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage up the river of the same name on behalf of Dutch commerce.  I knew perfectly well it would be hokey.  I knew there would be wooden shoes and cheese.   Still, I pictured being able to walk through humble little cottages, seeing past all the hokiness to gain the tiniest inkling of what life must have been like for my early Dutch settler ancestors on a rainy day in New Amsterdam.  I knew I was really reaching for an ancestral mind state.  But it was mortifying, strangely personally embarrassing to take Metro North down to this row of Ye Olde Dutch facades on little kiosks selling french fries, gouda, herring burgers, tulips, and yup, wooden shoes.  “Your early ancestors really knew how to shop,” said my friend.   She asked me if I wanted to go to the Museum of the American Indian, which is housed in the old customs house right across from the “village” but I had to get out of there.  We walked down to the ferry docks and looked at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island before heading uptown and taking refuge from the rain in Les Halles (We’re both big fans of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations).  We had a decadent late afternoon brunch that was worth the insomnia that came with it.

Especially as I lay awake thinking,  I happened to think of that Indian Museum overlooking “New Amsterdam.”    I had been lying there observing how shallow most thinking is–just random associations, mental spam.  But the image of that museum overlooking that feverish little “village” of consumption and travel promotion, it jogged a deeper memory–of Carl Jung’s encounter with an elder named Mountain Lake in the Taos Pueblo in 1925.   I quote from Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

“See,” Ochwiay Biano said, “how cruel the whites look.  Their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by folds.  Their eyes have a staring expression; they are always seeking something.  What are they seeking?  The whites always want something…We do not know what they want…We think they are mad.”

I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad. (This is Jung doing the asking)

“They say that they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why of course.  What do you think with?”  I asked him in surprise.

“We think here,” he said, indicating his heart.

I lay there in the dark with indigestion, registering how hollow it is to try to lay claim to something with just the head.   How much bolder it is to be fully present and receptive in the body, to really be open and attentive and and not just thinking we are.   Then respond from the heart.  Just imagine if more of the early settlers had done that…before they got on with the getting and spending.

4 comments

  1. Is there not at times is a little more to it than ‘just thinking with the heart’? When I am quiet enough that ‘myself’ is no longer the center of gravity something from above enters and I experience for a moment what it is to manifest, to perceive according to another level. I am not subjective. The experience is not of me but of something from another world altogether which I am allowed to know.

    For a moment I live there and I am touched by ‘something’ that gives me a taste of Love, of Sensitivity to other Beings. Then I am gone, back in myself. But the impressions remain.

  2. Yes, and there are encounters with others that can awaken me for a moment, loosen the grip of ego, so that I can almost taste what it would be like to live in accord with another order, in relations with all beings…then I start telling stories about it to myself and voila, the ego is right back in the saddle.

  3. In a gathering this past week end there was talk about the ‘ego’ and its’ villainous nature. My view of ego is one of suspicion. I’ve heard it talked about a great deal and there are even whole books and perhaps branches of psychology devoted to it. Yet, I am not convinced that it exists.

    When I hear people describing ego what I understand is that they are talking about forms that the intellect and the emotions take which has a taste of a false sort of I that takes its self to be something but in fact is nothing but a helter skelter bunch of this and that.

    For me the ego has no real existence. Instead I see emotional and intellectual forms which have been molded in me from very early in my life. These forms, since they were not placed in me by way of the reason of highly developed persons, are inevitably forms which do not serve my Being nor that of others.

    To give ego an ‘identity’ and keep the view that it is the big villain keeps me from seeing that, those parts, which temporarily gives rise to what we call the ego.

    During the week end discussions some people defended the concept of ego and went on to say that it was very important.

    I didn’t buy it. In fact I was reminded of Don Quixote’s battles.

  4. Sometimes I experience ego is a kind of vortex around a void, a defense of…nothing.

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