I just read Dan Millman’s whiny complaint [Correspondence, May 1996] regarding The Sun’s attitude about money and advertising. One of the main reasons I subscribe to The Sun and buy subscriptions for friends and family is that it has no advertising.
I was pleased to see his rant followed by Kathy Abel’s praise. She hit the nail on the head. Go home, all you nosy neighbors, and tend your own gardens!
In your May Correspondence, Carol Spaulding responded to Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Art of Living” [March 1996] by saying, “I can ‘practice smiling while cutting carrots’ because the world’s urgent social and political problems are not part of my daily life — not unless I make them a part. And then I wouldn’t be smiling.” She didn’t see his essay the same way I did. I saw it as easy-to-understand instruction on how to practice mindfulness — how to pay attention to changing experience, and find stillness in its midst.
During the “urgent social and political problem” of the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh was doing somewhat more than smiling and cutting carrots. He spoke out against the violence and became an exile from his homeland.
As I encounter my own war zones, whether at work in the ICU or in line at the grocery store, I hope to bring to each moment a greater sense of awareness and an ability to relate to it with compassion.
When I stumbled onto The Sun, I felt I had found a magazine that would provide simple truths, profound ideas, and unbiased concepts and words. But Robert Saltzman’s photograph in the April 1996 issue left me wondering.
Webster’s tells us that to be nude means not to be covered with clothing. You tell us it means exposed genitalia. If this is not your interpretation of nudity, then why focus on the genitals in this picture? It appears you would have us believe that nudity has nothing to do with the people themselves, who, strangely enough, have no faces. If that was your goal (and I assume it must have been), then the true meaning of the freedom of nudity has been lost.
The photograph mentioned above is available as a PDF only. Click here to download.
When I first saw the photograph by Robert Saltzman at the front of your Readers Write on “Nudity,” I was shocked. This did not look like something I would expect to see in The Sun. I turned the page quickly, but somehow I was drawn back and found myself studying the picture closely. Was it pornography or not? Suddenly, I understood its meaning: parents and their sex organs are how children get here. How strange that we have been conditioned to see genitals as dirty when they are the door to this world for all of us.
During the Victorian Era, many attempts were made to curb or eliminate human sexuality. “Excessive” sexual expression (anything beyond what was absolutely necessary for procreation) was believed dangerous. Masturbation, for example, was reported to cause insanity, epilepsy, gall stones, prolapse of the rectum, blindness, heart disease, and more.
Several Victorian “geniuses,” including cornflakes inventor John Harvey Kellogg, decided that a good cure for this “problem” was circumcision of the male. (Female circumcision was also sometimes performed, but never on a large scale.) Thus began America’s custom of cutting off part of male babies’ genitals. Despite physicians’ efforts to find new justifications for the practice — to replace the multitude of justifications that have gone by the wayside over the past century — circumcision is and always will be a vestige of the Victorian need to desexualize humankind.
The photograph that ran with your Readers Write on “Nudity” is beautiful, but also sad. The naked glans and visible scar of circumcision indicates what has been taken away from this man, from this woman (male circumcision affects women, too), and from this child.
Your Readers Write on “Nudity” resonated with a recent experience of mine. In a small town in Germany, I went to the mineral baths and swam while warm bubbles and jets of varying intensity soothed my aches. My fellow swimmers, whole families among them, looked beatific and relaxed, some positively laughing in delight. Afterward, in the steam room, everyone stripped naked — men, women, and children; thin and fat; gorgeous and plain — and sat in close proximity. Next, a quick dip in a cold pool; then the sauna. Finally, I visited the relaxing room, where we all reclined on lounge chairs, still suitless. It seemed the most natural thing in the world. If everyone had access to such a place, I thought, there would be no war.
I’ve never had a problem getting The Sun here in prison. Then, because I had a piece published in the Readers Write on “Nudity,” you sent me an extra copy of the April issue. This time the prison mail room checked the magazine more closely and — oh my God! — there was a photo of a naked baby. They wouldn’t let me have it, and now they act like I’m smuggling kiddie porn or something.
I would like to share some of my thoughts on the issues brought up by Stephen Mo Hanan in his wonderful essay “Out of the Psychedelic Closet” [April 1996].
“Attaching disgrace to drug use” is a tactic found not only in the campaign against personal freedom, but in the war against the Fourth World and its indigenous cultures. The forces of repression say the priests, priestesses, and medicine men and women of such cultures are “high” on mind-altering substances, and therefore unable to have real ecstatic or prophetic spiritual experiences. Thus, the dominant culture completely dismisses the existence of any spirituality in human history prior to the Bible.
Growing up in Moscow, one of the most dreadful places on earth, I missed the sixties. While I was trapped there, others of my generation were here dancing, singing, making love, and expanding their consciousness with psychedelics and rebellion.
Now that I am here, I find the shameless propaganda against drugs, sex, and the feminine would make my former country’s leaders sick with envy!
“Out of the Psychedelic Closet” was like a breath of fresh air here in the Northern Plains, one of the most conservative areas in the U.S. Yet, even here, there are biannual Buddhist meditation retreats at a nearby Catholic Ecumenical Center. I attend these retreats, along with farmers in their seed caps and elderly ladies from towns just big enough to have a grain elevator and a gas pump. And when traveling Tibetan monks blow through here, they receive a big enough welcome to make it worth their while. In the quarter century since Hanan had his vision in the holy garden in Jerusalem, the truth that was revealed to him has somehow entered the psychological water table of this country, and is slowly, silently influencing our collective consciousness.
I loved Stephen Mo Hanan’s “Out of the Psychedelic Closet.” His anger was distressing, but I sympathized with many of his opinions. It’s my guess that our drug laws harm more people than do the drugs themselves.
Jeff Tietz’s portrait of Mark O’Brien [“Mark O’Brien’s Days,” April 1996] was unvarnished, but Mark’s humanness shone through. His need for pornography felt understandable. I wonder how far my tolerance can stretch. We are “all just people,” right?
I was very moved by “Mark O’Brien’s Days.” As a home-health aid, I am constantly reminded that caretaking is an expression of love. I notice the me-versus-you schism inside me shrinking a little more every day. I am learning about loving and giving, and about the illusory dualism of “myself” and “others.” I imagine being with Mark and kissing him all over his body — not out of pity but out of love.
This morning I sank my weary body into a hot bath, picked up your magazine, and read “Warm Regards” by Naomi Jeffery Petersen [April 1996].
As a school counselor, I find my weekdays (and often evenings) filled with the painful problems of adolescence: low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, depression, eating disorders, and more. Jersey Lem felt his family’s love and knew where he belonged. His good fortune made me cry. This is the way it should be. I wish all children were so lucky.
As a prisoner, I found the Readers Write on “Hunger” [March 1996] particularly poignant. Eating disorders are prevalent here among physically abused, psychologically wounded, spiritually starved, and guilt-ridden women. (Most are guilty about the negative impact their drug addictions have had upon their children.) Incest victims, battered wives, products of inadequate educational systems, no self-esteem, addicted, resigned, rejected by society — these are the women I have encountered here daily for sixteen years, and have been working with as a peer counselor for eight years. I am still wondering, Where are the dangerous, calloused criminals? All I see are the wounded ones.
I love your wonderful magazine. It makes me laugh and cry, and keeps me open to visitations of the spirit. It saves me from drowning in the tedium of laundry and dirty dishes. I often read it while I’m nursing my younger child or sitting with my older one as she takes a bath. I’ve read a lot of how-to parenting books, but The Sun is more to the point; I think it makes me a better mother.