On Ukraine, Our Perceived Powerlessness, and Putin

The war in Ukraine has resulted in the physical and emotional devastation of the country

As I write this, the war between Russian and Ukraine rages on. As of yesterday, the death toll of civilians was estimated to be around 6, 755 (https://www.statista.com/topics/9087/russia-ukraine-war-2022/#topicHeader__wrapper).  Many Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have also unnecessarily perished, at the whim of a desperate, power-hungry dictator.  The war continues.  

One afternoon a few weeks after the war began, sitting in my psychotherapy office, I came across this https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.usatoday.com/amp/6998292001) of a pregnant woman being carried on a stretched by paramedics amidst rubbles and ruin (who later died, along with her baby), I found myself weeping. The woman, I read, evidently told the medics to “kill me now,” when she learned that her baby had died.  

Like many seeing these pictures, and letting this deeply absorb into my consciousness, I felt a sense of powerless, sadness, rage, guilt, and hopelessness. What could I do to help? Nothing, it seemed. Fury filled my entire being; how could Putin do this? I also felt guilty, that I loved such a comfortable and cushy life, able to raise my children in an environment of immense privilege. Alone with my laptop, I wept.

I asked myself,  what could I really do? I had seen links on the internet where I could donate money. I thought about that; it just didn’t seem to be enough. Driving around town, I saw a church billboard that stated “Pray for Ukraine.” So I began to pray. I prayed for the aforementioned woman and her baby, that they are at peace now. I prayed for the Ukrainian people as they continue to withstand the ravages of war.  I prayed to the guardian angels of Ukraine, which I learned about from the author/spiritual mystic Jenny D’Angelo. Jenny outlines how to do this in her book, Connect with your Angels (https://www.amazon.com/Connect-Your-Angels-Everyone-2014-02-13/dp/B01FGNB54A). If you are reading this, thinking, “How cheesy does that sound,” I can understand your skepticism. However, when you read the book, it will become clear the immense love that we can impart on the world with the help of our Angels. Often, taking my children to school, we pray aloud together, sending peace, love, and strength to the Ukrainians, via their angels. I hope to show them that even our little prayers matter, as all sincere prayers do. Even as the war continues. 

Angels can be of assistance in sending energy where it is needed, to a person, place, or situation

It finally dawned on me that I had left a major piece out of my thought and subsequent prayers for world peace; that piece was none other than Vladimir Putin. I realized that, as destructive as he was, he was in dire need of prayer and well-wishes. Part of me wanted to hate him, demonize him, and make him bad. After all, he is the clear-cut “enemy” here. He is, undoubtedly, a dictator and tyrant who rules by fear. Of course he was bad; he was without a doubt of the bad guy.

My training as a psychotherapist who practices from a relational, psychoanalytic frame (or at least, I aim to) lead me to try to make sense of the notion of “badness.” I found myself turning to the work of Melanie Klein (1882-1960), the famous psychoanalyst of Austrian and British descent (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melanie_Klein#Object_relation_theory).  Klein wrote about the concept of the paranoid-schizoid position. This is the concept that the infant pre-verbally categorizes their experiences in to “good” (the mother’s breast, good milk, the overall presence of the mother) and “bad,” (the absence of the mother’s breast, sour milk, and all the aggressive feelings which accompany.) Essentially, the infant’s world is organized by “good” and “bad experiences. In psychoanalytic theory, we call this rudimentary categorization “splitting.” It is a developmental task, and true achievement, to move to the “depressive position,” a more mature developmental stage wherein the individual can tolerate “good” and “bad” parts in themselves and others at the same time. CUNY Professor Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick articulates this well: “A depressive position is the understanding that good and evil things are one (https://sfonline.barnard.edu/heilbrun/sedgwick_02.htm).”  These states of moving between the paranoid-schizoid and the depressive position can be fluid; as healthy, functioning adults, we aim to be in the depressive position as much as we can.  To achieve this, the individual must deal with grief; grief that the mother (or any human, really) is neither all good or bad, but in reality, a complex mix of many parts, which can be loving, caring, aggressive, greedy, ruthless, selfish, destructive, etc.  

This is where Klein’s notion of the depressive position comes in. The mature way is to continue onward in life, accepting oneself with all one’s flaws. One thing I leaned over the years is that it feels empowering for me to take responsibility and apologize when I realize I hurt someone (especially good to do with children, as it models taking responsibility and that it’s OK to make mistakes.) The number of times I apologize is embarrassing at times, though I suppose this is part of breaking out of shame and towards continued self-acceptance. Though I fail copious amounts of times, I have an inner impetus towards growth.  As human beings, I believe we all do.  It is also in line with my spiritual values to not give up. God/Creator/The Universe, or whatever term resonates, needs us to persevere. Or, as a verse in gospel song I heard at church a few years ago put it: “For a saint is just a sinner who fell down/And got up.” 

Continuing in one’s spiritual quest, no matter what, is also what my eclectic spiritual practice tells me as well. I would say I identify loosely with Christian mysticism, though I dabble in practice and read across many traditions, such as Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism. Basically, I will read whatever interests me or seems helpful in any given moment.

Back to Putin. Eventually, I came around to reflecting that yes, he needed my prayers, and desperately so. Not because I am some sanctimonious, virtuous person. As I said above, I am a flawed, yet still loveable human being. If, in my mind and my heart, I make Putin bad, if I hate him, then I continue to hate and make my own self bad. Then, I continue to make not just him bad, but I continue to make others bad too, when they are different than me, act in a way I don’t like, or when I stand in judgment.  I am not saying that how Putin rules and what he does is ok; it is not. The acts committed by Putin are atrocious. They are none other than war crimes (https://www.state.gov/war-crimes-by-russias-forces-in-ukraine/). This must be stopped. Yet there exists something more powerful than any weapon. As one of the finest Unites States citizens ever to walk this earth, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only Love can do that.”   So, I wondered, where were the billboards around town saying “Pray for Putin?” I have not seen any. I understand why. It is easier to hate him and make him bad. No doubt he has done awful things to thousands of innocent people. However, if we do not pray, or send positive energy, or well wishes-whatever word resonates- we continue to disown the parts of our own selves that need tending to. The parts that are angry, violent, rageful, greedy, and desperate. And most of all, the parts that are terrified of annihilation. We become split again, rather than integrated. We cannot make ourselves, nor others, the enemy.  As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “God said ‘Love your enemy. And I obeyed him and loved myself (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/1054116-and-god-said-love-your-enemy-and-i-obeyed-him.

It feels natural to pray for Ukraine. But where, I wondered, are the calls to pray for Putin, who desperately needs help?

Everyone and everything is connected (https://medium.com/@AmazonkaIV/the-scientific-proof-that-everything-and-everyone-is-connected-and-infinitive-6f8163423a5b). What are the conditions that creates a Putin? What are the individual, societal, cultural, and global forces that allow this? Given his apparent lack of moral conscience and seeming lack of empathy, I would suspect that Mr.Putin probably endured abuse and or trauma of his own at some point.  This is usually how folks become so hardened and damaged.  President Biden recounted his own evaluation of Putin, at a meeting in 2014.  Here is a quote from the then-VP Biden: “I said ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul,’” Biden said. “He looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-russia-biden/u-s-vice-president-biden-says-putin-has-no-soul-new-yorker-idUSKBN0FQ1CU20140721).  From President Biden’s pithy assessment, we can extrapolate that Mr. Putin is formidably tough, intense, and probably not likely to enter psychotherapy anytime soon.   

            While we might not be able to go over and directly intervene nor stop the war in Ukraine, we can still help end the war between Russia and Ukraine. I would even argue that it is part of our duty as citizens. We can peacefully protest.  We can donate to charitable causes that support Ukraine and refuges (https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/donate-relief-to-ukraine/). We can keep the suffering of the Ukrainians in our minds and hearts, and meditate, and  send them well-wishes  And we can also do this for Mr. Putin, as difficult as it may be.  We can pray send well-wishes that there is peace and dare I say, even love, in the heart of Mr. Putin. He is in desperate need of this. We are all in need of this, as Mr. Putin has access to chemical and nuclear weapons. With the push of a button, he could end us all.  It’s hard to know how serious he is. The world has an obligation to pray for him. He and all his hatred and pain are what need our attention, irredeemable as he may seem.

We can always pray or meditate for a cause, even if it’s hard to conceive how this can help

I am just one tiny grain of sand in the entirety of the Cosmos. I am not a spiritual leader, politician, nor scholar. I am a just a regular person.  I’m a wife, mother, psychotherapist and citizen. I try to think deeply. I am flawed. I am a spiritual seeker who every day, strives to be a more integrated, open-hearted, loving, version of my self. My colleague, Dr. Shelly Eyre Graham, reminded me of what Carl Jung once said of all of us vulnerable humans: “….Like every other being, I am a splinter of the infinite deity” (https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1039371). I am but one lone soul. But I am a mighty soul. If you are reading this, you are a mighty soul too. As scholar and mystic Andrew Harvey said in a lecture I once heard him give, (https://www.andrewharvey.net), “No prayer goes unanswered.” What power there could be in the world if we actually focused on sending peace where it is needed. Right now, the person who needs it is Mr. Putin.  

            My point here, is that even though it seems as though we are powerless in the face of atrocities like the war in Ukraine, we still do have efficacy.  For myself, this means keeping myself fortified, by staying informed of what is happening in regards to the war in Ukraine, meditating, through listening to jazz.  I know this will help me.  And maybe it might help you too.

May the war end. May there be peace in Ukraine.

Jazz Therapy Weekly Meditation

In this week’s meditation, we will:

-Send positive energy to the people of Ukraine, including President Zelensky

-Send healing energy to Ukrainian refugees who had to flee the country -Send hopeful energy to Russia and to Vladimir Putin, in hopes that he end the war

Jazz Therapy Playlist of the Week: Honoring Ukraine

Now we are moving on to the playlist of the week, dedicated to Ukraine and designed to help process our emotions about the war.  This week, we feature the music of pianists Phineas Newborn Jr. and McCoy Tyner, as well as tenor sax player Budd Johnson.  All these incredible artists had a birthday this week. It was so hard to chose music for this playlist-a good problem to have!

Emotional Dwelling (To Mirror Your Mood)

“For All We Know,” Phineas Newborn Jr., Piano Portraits by Phineas Newborn Jr., 1959

This song is hauntingly elegant.  Every time I hear this ballad, I feel a sense of wonder, reverie, and a hope.  When I hear this song, I am almost transported to another realm.  I hear in this song longing, and I feel a deep longing for peace in Ukraine.  And we just don’t know when that will be.  Currently, there is no end in sight.  Thankfully, the G-7 countries pledged to back Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” which is heartening. What other choice do we really have? The title of the song “For All We Know” captures a sense that things are as they are for now, and that’s all we know for now.  Phineas Newborn Jr.’s rendition of this song is truly beautiful.

Emotional Elevation (To Feel Better)

“Savanna,” Phineas Newborn Jr., Phineas Newborn Jr. plays Harold Arlen’s music from Jamaica, 1957

This song is jaunty makes me want to get up and dance.  The piano solo here is just rollicking and so enjoyable to listen to.  Phineas Newborn Jr. was an American jazz pianist, and he was technically so talented that Oscar Peterson said of him: “If I had to choose the best all-around pianist of anyone who’s followed me chronologically, unequivocally … I would say Phineas Newborn, Jr” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Newborn_Jr.)

Emotional Tone Setting (To Intentionally Create an Emotional Vibe)

“Blues by Budd,” The Budd Johnson Quintet, Let’s Swing (Reissue), 1992

Budd Johnson was a tenor saxophonist, and here is one of his quintet’s tunes.  His tone was lyrical, and also yet deep at the same time.  This tune is bluesy, and swings.  The vibe of it is longing, some sadness, and yet also there is some hope in this tune, too.

Emotional Innovation (To Experience Something New)

“Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool,” McCoy Tyner, McCoy Tyner Plays Ellington, 1965, Impulse!

Mr. Putin could take inspiration from this Ellington tune and try to be more gentle and cool. Even if he just listened to this song, I bet he would feel better. Here, McCoy Tyner plays this song with a laid-back vibe full of jouissance, and the result is innovative, and yes, very cool.  He was only 26 when he recorded this album, which is amazing as well, though not surprising, given what a talent he was.

Jazz Birthdays Each week, we will highlight birthdays of jazz performers around the world.  We are grateful they exist! http://jazzbirthdaycalendar.com

McCoy Tyner:  December 11 (1938 –2020)

Budd Johnson December 14 (1910-1984)

Phineas Newborn Jr  December 14 (1931-1989)

Call for Poetry

Are you a poet? We are accepting submissions for our weekly “Poetry Play” portion of the “Jazz Therapy” newsletter! Your poem could be about jazz, civil rights, or any current event/theme that might go along with each newsletter.  You will get free publicity and appreciative eyes from the readers of “Jazz Therapy!”

Thank you for reading. Leave us a comment, and please subscribe. May Jazz Therapy soothe your soul.

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