APPLE
Skyline, Summer - 2010

Earthlines
By Diane Pendola



LiT-uPP

Printer Friendly Version

 

I am sending this Solstice issue of EARTHLINES to you early because I will be in Australia for most of the month of June.  I have an opportunity to present The Lioness Tale Prison Project to people gathered for a conference honoring Raimon Panikkar called, Dreaming The New Earth: Indigenous Spiritualities and The Vision Of Raimon Panikkar.  It was just two years ago that I envisioned the Lioness project moving beyond the borders of the United States to other countries through Panikkar networks of influence.  I would never have imagined it happening so quickly!

Examining the influence of this intercultural philosopher on my own philosophy of life has been a valuable process for me.  As a result I see that The Lioness Tale Prison Project (LiT-uPP) and the book on which it is based,1  truly do reflect the cosmotheandric vision of Raimon Panikkar, so fundamental to his life and thought.  The cosmotheandric principle could be formulated by saying that the divine, the human and the earthlyhowever we may prefer to call themare the three irreducible dimensions that constitute the real.2  Reality is a web of relationships in which everything is connected to everything else.  According to Panikkar this is the emerging religious consciousness of our time, a consciousness which assumes this communion nature of reality and recognizes our human responsibility in its co-creation.

At the conference, I will be presenting the LiT-uPP program as we are currently implementing it at the Central California Womens Facility, a mega-prison in the central valley of California.  We are working primarily with the women who are doing long-term to life prison sentences.  The plan is to continue with the program until we have built a core of "Panthers" (the character in the book that embodies the transformational energies), who can take ownership of the program and move it throughout the institution, thus changing the culture of the prison from the inside out.  LiT-uPP is a symbol of the cosmotheandric whole within a broken and diabolic system.

Granted, these women are not doing these kinds of sentences because they are saints, but that is precisely why we should be teaching sainthood!  Reality is cosmotheandric, interconnected.  Do we want evil and sadness and brokenness to continue to reverberate through the whole, rending the fabric of the real?  If so, then let us continue along this retributive path that breaks the human spirit and erodes the human soul.  Let us continue the penitentiary and all it represents, returning evil for evil, and an eye for an eye that, as Gandhi said, makes the whole world blind.  If we take seriously our cosmotheandric vocation, to participate in creating reality true to its fundamental goodness and unity, then our freedom consists precisely in walking this path, and liberation, (which is not for myself alone but for the community which constitutes my personhood), is deepened with each step along the way.

When I learned, early in the morning of June 1,  that my friend and mentor Thomas Berry had died,  I went to my meditation loft to feel what I had to feel.  Perched among branches of oak trees and the graceful limbs of cedars,  I listened to birds singing and felt the soft breezes come through the windows.  I felt Thomas.  I felt how he was such an embodiment of love! Not only was his mind keen, his vision far-seeing and focused but his heart was as big as the Universe he celebratedas all our hearts are it's just that Thomas not only knew this with his mind, but lived it with his whole life.

The Lioness Tale, tells the story of a young lioness, captured in her youth and forced to live out her life in captivity.  The women participating in the program have been amazed at how truly it reflects their story of incarceration and inner imprisonment.  But it also gives them something else hope in their own personal transformation.  (Hope, as Panikkar says, is not in the future but in the invisible.3  So Lit-uPP is about bringing Light out from the darkness, assisting prisoners in gaining the tools to tap the invisible realm and to participate in their own transformative process.  It transmits to them what Panikkar has transmitted to me, that we are each a microcosm of the whole,4  a center of the universal unfolding, and through us the invisible light radiates.

The invisible light radiates because the human, the cosmic and divine dimensions of reality are radically inter-related.  This cosmotheandric reality is the perspective I stand under, the myth that grounds me as I walk into the prison.  It is the light that allows me to see through the dark of a diabolic system to the divinity that can transform it.  This divinity is not within the fragmented and broken institution.  It is within the human heart that will not be imprisoned; that yearns for freedom and lives through faith.

This insight into the diabolic is developed by Clemens Mendonca in her book Dynamics of Symbol and Dialogue.5   Echoing Panikkar, she says that the world is the primordial symbol through which we encounter reality.  This symbol of the cosmic dimension of reality is characterized by the symbolic (that which brings together) and the diabolic (that which scatters, fragments).  The prison system could be seen as a diabolic symbol, a symbol which reveals a world fragmented and torn from its ground of meaning.  It is a symbol of our unwillingness to forgive, our need to punish and seek retribution.  It is a microcosm of the greater Earth community that is suffering and in pain due to our lack of connection to our own center and the cosmotheandric whole.  The prison system is inherently violent and dehumanizing and effects not only the prisoners and the people who guard them, but also those of us beyond their walls who, through our own fear and fragmentation, fund and support them.  Clemens uses the word "diabolic" in its ontological sense.  I would like to use it also in its psychological and popular understanding.  My experience of the prison system is that it is institutionalized dehumanization.  It is a systemic evil, diabolic in every sense of the word.  Yet the prisoners themselves, through the LiT-uPP program have shown me how the human person yearns towards wholeness and integration.  They are amazing in their desire to live purposefully and are so excited to have found a story that symbolizes for them the transformative powers that transcend their own life circumstances.  It is my hope that a freeing wind may begin to stir through us on the outside, to those in prison, and from them to us, so that the diabolical may be transformed into truly symbolic participations in healing, wholeness and forgiveness.

In his book "Cultural Disarmament, Panikkar wonders From whom is peace received? Who is the giver of this gift? And one might ask the same question of the essential qualities named by the Enneagram, (which I teach as an important part of the LiT-uPP program).  Those qualities such as faith, hope and love, are not manufactured or conjured as though they are objects to be grasped.  Rather they are received.  Panikkar continues, surely it cannot be a gift from oneself.  I cannot give myself peace---not even interior, internal peace.  A few paragraphs later he answers his question.  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, christian tradition says; something that belongs to the very tree of reality, although it is something that can fail to ripen and blossom.  Peace can only be a harmony of the very reality in which we share when we find ourselves in a situation of receptiveness by virtue of not having placed obstacles in the way of the rhythm of reality, of the Spirit, of the ultimate structure of the universe. 6 Cultivating this attitude of receptivity is the purpose of the LiT-uPP program, so that the women can feel their root in the very tree of reality and draw the strength to bloom, even in the hard-pan desert of a prison wasteland. In his book "Cultural Disarmament, Panikkar wonders From whom is peace received? Who is the giver of this gift? And one might ask the same question of the essential qualities named by the Enneagram, (which I teach as an important part of the LiT-uPP program).  Those qualities such as faith, hope and love, are not manufactured or conjured as though they are objects to be grasped.  Rather they are received.  Panikkar continues, surely it cannot be a gift from oneself.  I cannot give myself peace---not even interior, internal peace.  A few paragraphs later he answers his question.  Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, christian tradition says; something that belongs to the very tree of reality, although it is something that can fail to ripen and blossom.  Peace can only be a harmony of the very reality in which we share when we find ourselves in a situation of receptiveness by virtue of not having placed obstacles in the way of the rhythm of reality, of the Spirit, of the ultimate structure of the universe.  Cultivating this attitude of receptivity is the purpose of the LiT-uPP program, so that the women can feel their root in the very tree of reality and draw the strength to bloom, even in the hard-pan desert of a prison wasteland.

Panikkar says that the penitentiary system, which participates in the degradation of the person, must be included on any list of threats to peace.7  The prison system is a threat to peace because it breaks the fabric of reality.  To support it,  is to participate in its inherent violence,  thereby doing violence not only to the prisoner but to also to ourselves.

What allows me to walk into a maximum security prison, to gather a circle of 12 women, some of whom have already spent 20 or more years of their lives in prison; some of whom have no hope of parole or seeing the world outside the razor wire fences again, some of whom will have spent their entire adult lives in this place and will die in this place, is this trust in the harmonious nature of reality.  It is what Raimon calls cosmic confidence.  The ultimate ground for this cosmic confidence lies in the almost universal conviction that Reality is ordered in other words is good, beautiful and true. 8  I am confident that they are not outside this reality.  They are not on the margins.  They are at the very center.  And in the midst of an inherently violent and dehumanizing system that would relegate them to the status of non-persons, they can claim their person-hood.  By virtue of their participation in the cosmotheandric nature of reality, learning how to become receptive to the rhythm of the ultimate structure of the universe,  they become not the victims of a degrading system but the very instruments of its transformation.




1Diane Pendola, The Lioness Tale, iUniverse, 2005
2Raimon Panikkar, The Cosmotheandric Experience, Maryknoll, 1993, p. 60
3Raimon Panikkar, Christophany, Orbis Books, 2004, p. 133
4Ibid, p. 138
5Clemens Mendonca, Dynamics of Symbol and Dialogue: Transaction Publishers, 2002, p. 95 ff
6Raimon Panikkar, Cultural Disarmament: the Way to Peace, Westminster John Knox press, p. 9
7Ibid, p. 67
8Raimon Panikkar, Invisible harmony: Essays on Contemplation and Responsibility, Fortress, 1995, p.6


©Diane Pendola, Summer 2010. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

If you believe you receive a benefit from this, and the work we do, a donation would be gratefully accepted. You can make a tax deductible donation by sending a check to Skyline Harvest, Inc, PO Box 338, Camptonville, CA 95922 Thank you!

Back to Top