The Pacific Heart

Psychiatry, Spirituality and Culture

A Modest Proposal: The Saraswati Team

An arts-dedicated response to suffering and tragedy

January 23, 2013

The New Year is upon us; some feel hope and promise, some feel revitalized by the Inauguration of President Obama, others feel darker emotions – still trying to shake the winter blues.  We reflect on the past year, with memories particularly darkened by the tragedies at Newtown (see my earlier blog post), India, Syria and the streets where we live.  I still harbor deep hopes that the transcendent themes of unity and healing will win out over the voices of division and intolerance, but that, too, is not a spectator sport.  We are all involved, in some way, in this American drama. 

Walt Whitman once said that America herself is a poem.  As a poet myself, I sometimes feel that the structure of the universe is poetry – why else is it called the “uni-verse”?  I pointed out in one slam poem (“Word to the Universe” in my collection “a fox peeks out”) that verse, universe, vertebrae, worth, converge, avert, word and even worm are all derived from Sanskrit vartate, to turn.  (“The worm turns before it becomes the word…we avert disaster when we crack the spine of a book.”)  Richard Blanco’s Inaugural Poem certainly exemplified the power of words and the poem to crystallize and magnify our feelings and deepen our experience of life.

We live in a world of breakdowns – social, psychological, spiritual, ecological.  The newspaper and our inboxes remind us each day of suffering.  How do we respond?  Hopefully not with apathy and withdrawal, though I regularly hear people expressing a feeling of being overwhelmed by the enormity of difficulty in their personal and communal lives.

I propose an alternative.  We’ve seen the brave SWAT teams and first responders racing in to help when tragedy strikes.  We also have the second responders – the people who help us grieve and process the event, including journalists and counselors.  The third responders are those who debate policy and try to offer solutions to ensure that tragedy will be less likely in the future.

I propose that we have a team of fourth responders.  Well after the SWAT team has done its work, we need a Saraswati team.

Saraswati is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, arts, music, and science.  She is also a protector for those engaged in Buddhist practice.  She is the consort of Brahma, the creator of the universe in the Hindu scheme, and provides the feminine principle necessary for all creative endeavors.

I am imagining a group – perhaps local, perhaps national or even international, perhaps with changing members – whose task it is to bring healing and direction to our national and international crises.  I could envision psychologists, poets, filmmakers, visual artists, musicians and others coming together to collaborate on projects that help us lift and deepen human perception, and perhaps even guide us to a sense of wholeness.  Or certainly an awareness of our fragmentation.

I think artists are often doing this on their own – each artist is often their own Saraswati team, feeling some pain or perceiving the world in some new way, and bringing this awareness to consciousness.  But perhaps a more organized Saraswati team could move the dialogue in a more powerful way.

Groups of artists working in proximity have transformed the arts – I’m thinking in particular of the New York Soho artists in the 1950s and 60s.  It would be really exciting to rekindle that kind of energy in our day.

What do you think?  Let me know in the comments section.

©  2012 Ravi Chandra, M.D. All rights reserved.  Subscribe by RSS above.  Sign up for a quarterly e-newsletter to be the first to find out about my upcoming book on the psychology of social networks through a Buddhist lens, Facebuddha:  Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks, at www.RaviChandraMD.com.  Facebook page: SanghaFrancisco-The Pacific Heart. Twitter @going2peace. Thanks for your shares on Facebook, etc.!

Ravi Chandra, M.D., F.A.P.A. is a Board Certified Psychiatrist and writer in San Francisco, California.

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