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March 2017

Boundaries of the Soul

The Demure Wisdom of the Chimpanzee


It’s fascinating to watch the theatre of the mind, what slides by and what refuses to be forgotten. This week a fleeting image on a screen caught my eye and stuck in my psyche, echoing for days like an alarm that refused to be silenced. A scene of four men in white lab coats carrying off a defenseless chimp by her four limbs. That was all. It was an old documentary about arrogant, misguided practices. But my mind latched onto the image and couldn’t shake it, especially the demure surrender of the chimpanzee.

But why did this scene in particular choose to torture me? The paper is filled with disturbances nowadays, far more current and pressing. Clearly this one evoked something in my unconscious needing to be recognized and articulated.

Gloriously, one tendril leads to another in our mysterious neural labyrinth. Not able to push away the pathos or the horror, it eventually blossomed into a recollected teaching by Marianne Williamson. We were at the National Cathedral at the height of the Iraq War. I was leading Shabbat rituals and she, well, she was the resident prophet. The nave was filled with 1,300 women; the theme was compassion.

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