is not, for me, these grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled overlooks, towering clouds, but doing errands on a day of driving rain, staying dry inside the silver skin of the car, 160,000 miles, still running just fine. Or later,
sitting in a café warmed by the steam from white chicken chili, two cups of dark coffee, watching the red and gold leaves race down the street, confetti from autumn's bright parade. And I think
of how my mother struggles to breathe, how few good days she has now, how we never think about the glories of breath, oxygen cascading down our throats to the lungs, simple as the journey of water over a rock. It is the nature
of stone / to be satisfied / writes Mary Oliver, It is the nature of water / to want to be somewhere else, rushing down a rocky tor or high escarpment, the panoramic landscape boundless behind it. But everything glorious is around
us already: black and blue graffiti shining in the rain's bright glaze, the small rainbows of oil on the pavement, where the last car to park has left its mark on the glistening street, this radiant world.
"Indeed, even though all monks are committed to the same task, deep down - as doctors or hospital construction workers are - the details of their practice are as different as their wildly divergent times and cultures.
A Christian generally longs to be rooted in the home he's found in God; the Buddhist, more concerned with uncovering potential, is more interested in experiments and inquiries, always pushing deeper.
In fact Christianity works from very uncertain beginnings toward a specific end (redemption and a life with God); Buddhism starts with something very specific (the Buddha and the reality of the suffering he saw) and moves toward an always uncertain future (even after one has attained Nirvana). The image of the open road speaks for a perpetual becoming."
Page 140. 'The Open Road - The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama' Pico Iyer
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice--it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances--but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.
"We all have something within ourselves to batter down, and we get our power from this fighting. I have never 'produced' a play in verse without showing the actors that the passion of the verse comes from the fact that the speakers are holding down violence, or madness - 'down Hysterica Passio'.
All depends on the completeness of the holding down, on the stirring of the beast underneath. Without this conflict we have no passion, only sentiment and thought."
W.B.Yeats, in a letter to Dorothy Wellesley. From 'Yeats: The Man and the Masks', by Richard Ellmann
"How else could it have occurred to man to divide the cosmos, on the analogy of day and night, summer and winter, into a bright-day world and a dark night-world peopled with fabulous monsters, unless he had the prototype of such a division in himself, in the polarity between the conscious and the invisible and unknowable unconscious?
..."All that is outside, is also inside", we could say with Goethe.
But this "inside" which modern rationalism is so eager to derive from "outside" has an a priori structure of its own that antedates all conscious experience. It is quite impossible to conceive how "experience" in the widest sense, or, for that matter, anything psychic, could originate exclusively in the outside world.
I am alone making guacamole, and he is on a plane getting ready to act out marriage rituals with people who will stop calling once the kids come.
I feel skeletal and ashamed like my insecurities have made me instead of the other way around. That’s when I stab myself with a serrated knife attempting to extract a pit from an avocado.
Blood bubbles behind the bundle of loose nerves like oil waiting to erupt from the ocean floor. Living, I suppose, is a lot like mining. Most days you find nothing.
But how strange and humbling it is to realize that your skin is no tougher than a sheet of rice paper, your heart no more resilient than a light bulb, your love no less a stranger than an old classmate you make eye contact with in passing at the gas station.
He will come back to me or he will not, and I will go on living. The window into my hand, before the blood remembers its job is to flow, is so deep and clean I lose my breath,
and for once see the world exactly as it is—a boat that we let carry us off. We could just as soon throw the anchor down, light the dynamite, and swim away.
"As you integrate ignorance and failure into your knowledge and success, do the same with all the alien parts of yourself.
Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow… But when you are able to say, “I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,” the shadow’s power is put in service of the good.
Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life.
As a person who … has made three deep dives into depression along the way, I do not speak lightly of this. I simply know that it is true."
Parker Palmer The Six Pillars of the Wholehearted Life: Parker Palmer’s Spectacular Naropa University Commencement Address
"What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you.
No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”
Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.
To grow in love and service, you — I, all of us — must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success…
Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life."
The Six Pillars of the Wholehearted Life: Parker Palmer’s Spectacular Naropa University Commencement Address
is not a passive response to something we have been given, gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a-priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.
Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege; that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.
To see the full miraculous essentiality of the color blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks. To see fully, the beauty of a daughter’s face across the table, of a son's outline against the mountains, is to be fully grateful without having to seek a God to thank him. To sit among friends and strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions; to intuit even stranger inner lives beneath calm surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someones, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything happens both with us and without us, that we are participants and witness all at once.
Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table as part of every other person’s strange world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege.
Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets and fully beholds all other presences. Being unappreciative, feeling distant, might mean we are simply not paying attention.
Twyla Tharp says in The Creative Habit, “I read for growth, firmly believing that what you are today and what you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.”
And maybe the people you meet will depend on the books you read."
"Maybe it is partly our ordinariness that makes humans magnificent. We persist, in spite of the daunting sameness of our days, in spite of a dull repetitiveness that might shape our lives – we persist in finding shards of beauty, and we persist in seeking out the experience of feeling something larger than ourselves, in something transcendent.
I like what Joseph Campbell has to say in Thou Art That about one possible path toward this:
“How does the ordinary person come to the transcendent? For a start, I would say, study poetry. Learn how to read a poem. You need not have the experience to get the message, or at least some indication of the message. It may come gradually.”
We think of lifetimes as mostly the exceptional and sorrows. Marriage we remember as the children, vacations, and emergencies. The uncommon parts. But the best is often when nothing is happening.
The way a mother picks up the child almost without noticing and carries her across Waller Street while talking with the other woman. What if she could keep all of that? Our lives happen between the memorable.
I have lost two thousand habitual breakfasts with Michiko. What I miss most about her is that commonplace I can no longer remember.
Looking back on her barely survivable childhood, ravaged by pain which Oliver has never belabored or addressed directly — a darkness she shines a light on most overtly in her poem “Rage” and discusses obliquely in her terrific On Being conversation with Krista Tippett — she contemplates how reading saved her life:
"Adults can change their circumstances; children cannot. Children are powerless, and in difficult situations they are the victims of every sorrow and mischance and rage around them, for children feel all of these things but without any of the ability that adults have to change them. Whatever can take a child beyond such circumstances, therefore, is an alleviation and a blessing." Staying Alive: Mary Oliver on How Books Saved Her Life and Why the Passion for Work Is the Greatest Antidote to Pain
"Cheerfulness is an achievement, and hope is something to celebrate. If optimism is important, it’s because many outcomes are determined by how much of it we bring to the task. It is an important ingredient of success.
This flies in the face of the elite view that talent is the primary requirement of a good life, but in many cases the difference between success and failure is determined by nothing more than our sense of what is possible and the energy we can muster to convince others of our due. We might be doomed not by a lack of skill, but by an absence of hope.
Put simply and poignantly, it pays to “imagine immensities.”
Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.
Wendell Berry, (Collected Poems 1957-1982)
Photo: The tabebuia impetiginosas are back! They will last for a few weeks in November, covering themselves completely in a cloud of pink 2 weeks from now. To think that I get to see them again, yet another year....
"Why do we love nonsense? ....It is this participation in the essential glorious nonsense that is at the heart of the world, not necessarily going anywhere.
It seems that only in moments of unusual insight and illumination that we get the point of this, and find that the true meaning of life is no meaning, that its purpose is no purpose, and that its sense is non-sense.
Still, we want to use the word “significant.” Is this significant nonsense? Is this a kind of nonsense that is not just chaos, that is not just blathering balderdash, but rather has in it rhythm, fascinating complexity, and a kind of artistry?
It is in this kind of meaninglessness that we come to the profoundest meaning." Sense of Nonsense: Alan Watts on How We Find Meaning by Surrendering to Meaninglessness
1. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.
...it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself. 2. Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone.
...prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.
3. Be generous.
Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator.
4. Build pockets of stillness into your life.
What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?
5. When people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.
You are the only custodian of your own integrity.
6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity.
“how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
7. Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.
...the flower doesn’t go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds - in the making of one’s character and destiny.
8. Seek out what magnifies your spirit.
Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often.
9. Don’t be afraid to be an idealist.
Supply creates its own demand. Only by consistently supplying it can we hope to increase the demand for the substantive over the superficial — in our individual lives and in the collective dream called culture.
10. Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively.
There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincerity and acting from a place of largehearted, constructive, rational faith in the human spirit, continually bending toward growth and betterment. This remains the most potent antidote to cynicism. Today, especially, it is an act of courage and resistance.
"By choosing assimilation, China’s Hui have become one of the world’s most successful Muslim minorities."
"Surprisingly, the Hui have not lost their religion or identity despite centuries of assimilation. Mr Ma, the retired professor, says Hui people often form close-knit communities and pursue similar occupations; restaurants and taxis in many cities are run by Hui. But their religion is “still the most important binding factor”, he says. The Hui maintain a delicate balance. They can practise their religion undisturbed thanks to assimilation. But it is their religion that makes them distinct."
"Japanese photographer Masao Yamamoto (born 1957) trained as an oil painter before discovering that photography was the ideal medium for the theme that most interested him--the ability of the image to evoke memories. Small Things in Silence surveys the 20-year career of one of Japan's most important photographers. Yamamoto's portraits, landscapes and still lifes are made into small, delicate prints, which the photographer frequently overpaints, dyes or steeps in tea."
Perhaps not as many days of sun as they might have wanted, perhaps not as much warmth, perhaps not as much rain— rain that soaks in like a lover’s lingering glance, and still beside the trail in late fall they are everywhere,
the seeds of next year’s flowers giving their everything to the world.
"Antaeus would challenge all passers-by to wrestling matches and remained invincible as long as he remained in contact with his mother, the earth. As Greek wrestling, like its modern equivalent, typically attempted to force opponents to the ground, he always won, killing his opponents."
Says one teacher: where you stumble and fall, there you'll find gold. Says another: first there's the fall and then we recover from the fall. Both are the mercy of God.
And we can't forget Antaeus, legendary wrestler and son of Terra Mater, a fellow whose strength was renewed whenever it happened, for every time he fell (hurled to the ground by some opponent) he'd land right in his mother's arms.
"I can’t quite shake the astonishment. I can’t quite believe what my life keeps teaching me, that material existence is a thin veil thrown over a foundation of miracles so numerous and profound we almost invariably overlook them."
What's instructive is not That he laid down the sea But that he seemed so unharassed By the possibility of complete And utter catastrophe. Yes It could all fall apart, he seemed to say; Yes, the storm could turn your little ship Into a sudden coffin- yes. Faith, he told us then, Is not trusting things will one day be better.
Faith is trusting things could never be better. No matter what.
"The idea behind Nowhere - choosing to sit still long enough to turn inward - is at heart a simple one. If your car is broken, you don't try to find ways to repaint its chassis; most of our problems - and therefore our solutions, our peace of mind - lie within.
To hurry around trying to find happiness outside ourselves makes about as much sense as the comical figure in the Islamic parable who, having lost a key in his living room, goes out into the street to look for it because there's more light there.
As Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius reminded us more than two millenia ago, it's not our experiences that form us but the ways in which we respond to them; a hurricane sweeps through town, reducing everything to rubble, and one man sees it as a liberation, a chance to start anew, while another, perhaps even his brother, is traumatized for life."
Raining, after the driest October in twenty years, citizens hustle across the street to take cover.
I join in, cross the street with my bags from the market soaked by the rain, hurry to beat the light turning red. A maple leaf falls, another.
At the same time, she stokes the fire with branches as thin as her wrists, sets the kettle on the stove—
waits to remove my clothes, to sit me in front of the fire with a blanket draped over my shoulders, to pull the kitchen knife from the drawer to cut the gouda, to slice the Fujis in half, to warm a loaf of bread.
"So we have to be patient with ourselves. Over and over again we think we need to be somewhere else, and we must find the truth right here, right now; we must find our joy here, now. How seductive it is, the thought of tomorrow. We must find our understanding here. We must find it here; it is always here; this is where the grass is green."
"Loneliness, in its quintessential form, is of a nature that is incommunicable by the one who suffers it. Nor, unlike other non-communicable emotional experiences, can it be shared via empathy. It may well be that the second person's empathic abilities are obstructed by the anxiety-arousing quality of the mere emanations of the first person's loneliness."
When I read those lines, I remembered sitting, years back, outside a train station in the south of England, waiting for my father. It was a sunny day, and I had a book I was enjoying. After a while, an elderly man sat down next to me and tried repeatedly to strike up conversation. I didn't want to talk and after a brief exchange of pleasantries I began to respond more tersely until eventually, still smiling, he got up and wandered away.
I've never stopped feeling ashamed about my unkindness, and nor have I ever forgotten how it felt to have the force field of his loneliness pressed up against me: an overwhelming, unmeetable need for attention and affection, to be heard and touched and seen."
Page 25, 'The Lonely City, Adventures in the Art of Being Alone', Olivia Laing
"Kaddish is a prayer found in the Jewish prayer service. The central theme of the Kaddish is the magnification and sanctification of God's name.The term "Kaddish" is often used to refer specifically to "The Mourners' Kaddish", said as part of the mourning rituals in Judaism in all prayer services as well as at funerals and memorials. When mention is made of "saying Kaddish", this unambiguously denotes the rituals of mourning."
Tattered Kaddish Adrienne Rich
Taurean reaper of the wild apple field messenger from earthmire gleaning transcripts of fog in the nineteenth year and the eleventh month speak your tattered Kaddish for all suicides:
Praise to life though it crumbled in like a tunnel on ones we knew and loved
Praise to life though its windows blew shut on the breathing-room of ones we knew and loved
Praise to life though ones we knew and loved loved it badly, too well, and not enough
Praise to life though it tightened like a knot on the hearts of ones we thought we knew loved us
Praise to life giving room and reason to ones we knew and loved who felt unpraisable
Praise to them, how they loved it, when they could.
"That we go numb along the way is to be expected. Even the bravest among us, who give their lives to care for others, go numb with fatigue, when the heart can take in no more, when we need time to digest all we meet. Overloaded and overwhelmed, we start to pull back from the world, so we can internalize what the world keeps giving us.
Perhaps the noblest private act is the unheralded effort to return: to open our hearts once they’ve closed, to open our souls once they’ve shied away, to soften our minds once they’ve been hardened by the storms of our day."
"We suffer, often unknowingly, from wanting to be in two places at once, from wanting to experience more than one person can. This is a form of greed, of wanting everything. Feeling like we're missing something or that we're being left out, we want it all. But being human, we can't have it all. The tension of all this can lead to an insatiable search, where our passion for life is stirred, but never satisfied.
When caught in this mindset, no amount of travel is enough, no amount of love is enough, no amount of success is enough...
The truth is that one experience taken to heart will satisfy our hunger. "
100 Butterflies (excerpt)
Where you are going
and the place you stay
come to the same thing.
What you long for
and what you've left behind
are as useless as your name.
Just one time, walk out
into the field and look
at that towering oak --
an acorn still beating at its heart.
"On yet another level, silence means listening. We follow the Rule of St. Benedict and the first word of that Rule is "Listen." That's the great ethical element of silence: to check my words and listen to another point of view. I'll never have any real peace should my sense of well-being depend on soundless peace.
When I can learn the patience of receiving, in an un-threatened way, what I'd rather not hear, then I can have a real measure of peace in any situation."
After 3 occurrences of cancer within the family (2 dead, one will go any day now) I finally bought this book I have been meaning to read since years. Brilliantly written, very easy reading for the layman. And a great reminder that any day you wake up and are still alive and well, and no one in your family is dying, you must remember to be happy and cheerful. ................................................................................................................................
"...This image - of cancer as our desperate, malevolent, contemporary doppelgänger - is so haunting because it is at least partly true. A cancer cell is an astonishing perversion of the normal cell. Cancer is a phenomenally successful invader and colonizer in part because it exploits the very features that make us successful as a species and as an organism. [AM: cell division, cloning, survival of the fittest, growth via evolution]
...When a chemotherapeutic drug or the immune system attacks cancer, mutant clones that can resist the attack grow out. The fittest cancer cell survives. This mirthless, relentless cycle of mutation, selection, and overgrowth generates cells that are more and more adapted to survival and growth. In some cases, the mutations speed up the acquisition of other mutations. The genetic instability, like a perfect madness, only provides more impetus to generate mutant clones.
Cancer thus exploits the fundamental logic of evolution unlike any other illness. If we, as a species, are the ultimate product of Darwinian selection, then so too is this incredible disease that lurks inside us."
"Ukemi is a Japanese word used in Judo for the method of falling without getting injured.
...He [my Judo teacher] made me practice nothing but falling for six months, correcting every infinitesimal detail. He would sense my frustration when he caught me wistfully looking at the other judoka. They would be performing their techniques and sparring while I rolled for hours on the mat, with my teacher sometimes deftly throwing me to demonstrate a nuance I had missed.
He would then remind me that the art of falling was the foundation of good Judo.
...One day the head teacher, a seventy-year-old eighth Dan judoka, legendary for his insightful teaching called me aside after a randori. “How can you do beautiful Judo if you don’t risk falling?” he asked. I was taken aback. I thought the whole idea of a randori was to avoid getting thrown.
He continued, “A lot of judokas don’t like to fall, so they try to avoid it at all cost. By doing this, they get tense, their techniques become wooden and their Judo lacks zest.”
Seeing he had piqued my interest, he went on, “Real Judo is like life. The little losses and gains don’t count for much. What matters is whether you lived beautifully, with courage and joy.
For this, you must learn not to fear falling or failure and welcome it like a friend. Because only when you learn to love it, then can you really live to your full potential.”
The mother elk and 2 babies are sniffing the metal handle of the bear-proof trash bin.
I remember the instructions for city people: 3 football fields of space between you & the elk if their babies are with them.
I’m backing up slowly, watching the calves run into each other as they bend to eat grass/look up at the mother at the same time.
The caramel color of their coat, the sloping line of their small snouts & I want to hold that beauty, steal it for me, but I’m only on football field # 2 & walking into the woods past the lodge pole pines.
Their fragility, their awkward bumping opens me to a long ago time— a hand on the door, I was walking in to the psych hospital in Pittsburgh, feeling broken and stripped down— a hand on the door from around my body
& I looked up to see the body of a man, who said: Let me get that for you— a hand on the door & the bottom of me dropped
I couldn’t breathe for the kindness. I couldn’t say how deep that went for me.
I had been backing up, awkward I had been blind to my own beauty.
"But though we believe ourselves to be seeking happiness in marriage, it isn’t that simple. What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood.
The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes.
How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign.
We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy."
occur. Some days I find myself putting my foot in the same stream twice; leading a horse to water and making him drink. I have a clue. I can see the forest for the trees.
All around me people are making silk purses out of sows’ ears, getting blood from turnips, building Rome in a day. There’s a business like show business. There’s something new under the sun.
Some days misery no longer loves company; it puts itself out of its. There’s rest for the weary. There’s turning back. There are guarantees. I can be serious. I can mean that. You can quite put your finger on it.
Some days I know I am long for this world. I can go home again. And when I go I can take it with me.
What does that do to the old blood moving through its channels? Naomi Shihab Nye, 'Fresh'
So much we do not need— the old t-shirts at the back of the closet, the secret ingredient in Aunt Jean’s tuna casserole, the pity of strangers, the growing stack of journals we promise ourselves we will someday read, the memorized jingles from TV commercials we sang when we were young.
And then there’s the list of what we cannot do without— the willingness to blossom out of our own detritus, the capacity to laugh a real unguarded laugh, a joy in unlearning whatever we think we know, and the grace to let our story re-write itself even as we fear turning the page.
"Niroshta literally means without the lips.If the lips do not meet / touch, then the notes Ma and Pa cannot be uttered.This scale does not use either note and hence the name. It is a very pleasing rāgam."
"...Our blindness grows out of the small, daily decisions that we make, which embed us more snugly inside our affirming thoughts and values. And what’s most frightening about this process is that as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty. We think we see more — even as the landscape shrinks.
...We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know. But we give ourselves hope when we insist on looking. The very fact that willful blindness is willed, that it is a product of a rich mix of experience, knowledge, thinking, neurons, and neuroses, is what gives us the capacity to change it. Like Lear, we can learn to see better, not just because our brain changes but because we do.
As all wisdom does, seeing starts with simple questions: What could I know, should I know, that I don’t know? Just what am I missing here?"
Why We Ignore the Obvious: The Psychology of Willful Blindness How to counter the gradual narrowing of our horizons
is the doorway to the here and now. Physical or emotional pain is an ultimate form of ground, saying, to each of us, in effect, there is no other place than this place, no other body than this body, no other limb or joint or pang or sharpness or heartbreak but this searing presence. Pain asks us to heal by focusing not only on the place the pain is felt but also the actual way the pain is felt. Pain is a form of alertness and particularity; pain is a way in.
...Pain is the first proper step to real compassion; it can be a foundation for understanding all those who struggle with their existence. Experiencing real pain ourselves, our moral superiority comes to an end; we stop urging others to get with the program, to get their act together or to sharpen up, and start to look for the particular form of debilitation, visible or invisible that every person struggles to overcome. In pain, we suddenly find our understanding and compassion engaged as to why others may find it hard to fully participate.
..Lastly, pain is appreciation; for most of all the simple possibility and gift of a pain free life - all the rest is a bonus. Others do not know the gift in simply being healthy, of being unconsciously free to move or walk or run. Pain is a lonely road, no one can know the measure of our particular agonies, but through pain we have the possibility, just the possibility, of coming to know others as we have, with so much difficulty, come to know ourselves.
David Whyte, 'Pain' From 'Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words'
I hang the still life of flowers by a window so it can receive the morning light, as flowers must.
But sun will fade the paint, so I move the picture to the east centre of a dark wall, over the mantel where it looks too much like a trophy - one of those animal heads but made up of blossoms.
I move it again to a little wall down a hallway where I can come upon it almost by chance, the way the Japanese put a small window in an obscure place, hoping that the sight of a particular landscape will startle them with beauty as they pass, and not become familiar.
I do this all day long, moving the picture or sometimes a chair or a vase from place to place. Or else putting in a comma to slow down a long sentence, then taking it out, then putting it back again
until I feel like a happy Sisyphus, or like a good farmer who knows that the body's work is never over, for the motions of plowing and planting continue season after season, even in his sleep.
was what they called you in high school if you tripped on a shoelace in the hall and all your books went flying.
Or if you walked into an open locker door, you would be known as Einstein, who imagined riding a streetcar into infinity.
Later, genius became someone who could take a sliver of chalk and square pi a hundred places out beyond the decimal point,
or a man painting on his back on a scaffold, or drawing a waterwheel in a margin, or spinning out a little night music.
But earlier this week on a wooded path, I thought the swans afloat on the reservoir were the true geniuses, the ones who had figured out how to fly, how to be both beautiful and brutal, and how to mate for life.
Twenty-four geniuses in all, for I numbered them as Yeats had done, deployed upon the calm, crystalline surface—
forty-eight if we count their white reflections, or an even fifty if you want to throw in me and the dog running up ahead,
who were at least smart enough to be out that morning—she sniffing the ground, me with my head up in the bright morning air.
Just as the hare is zipping across the finish line, the tortoise has stopped once again by the roadside, this time to stick out his neck and nibble a bit of sweet grass, unlike the previous time when he was distracted by a bee humming in the heart of a wildflower...
"Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability - a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one's own best self and one's own best words and questions."
Generous listening in fact yields better questions."
Krista Tippett, 'Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living'
"There once was a man named Su Shi, also known as Su Dongpo, who lived in China during the Song dynasty (960-1279). Su Dongpo was brilliant scholar, writer, poet and statesman. He was was also a devoted student of Chan (Zen) Buddhism. Su Dongpo lived across the river from his friend and spiritual teacher, Master Foyin of the Golden Mountain Temple.
One day while visiting with Master Foyin over tea, Su Dongpo, who prided himself on his wit, intellectual acumen, and prowess in debate, challenged the Master,
“Foyin, people see you as an enlightened monk, but to me you look like nothing but a big, stinking pile of worthless shit sitting on your pillow all day long.”
Then Su Dongpo leaned back, crossed his arms smugly, waiting to see how the Master would respond.
After a time, Master Foyin smiled, placed his hands together in prayer and replied, “My dear Dongpo, to me you look like a Buddha.“ And then he said no more.
Feeling very satisfied with himself for having outsmarted his teacher, Su Dongpo grinned, arose and bade the Master farewell. When he arrived home, he wasted no time in sharing his triumph with his sister, "Sister, today I outwitted Master Foyin in debate,” he proclaimed proudly, recounting the entire story in great detail, so as to savour the taste of his victory once again.
After some time patiently listening to the story, Su Dongpo’s sister replied: “Oh brother! No, no! Do you not see? You did not win. The Master bested you without you even realizing it!”
Scandalized, Su Dongpo exclaimed, “What do you mean?”
“Brother, do you not see that your perception of the world mirrors the condition of your heart? Master Foyin sees you as a Buddha because he is a Buddha. You see him as a pile of shit. Now what does that make you?”
Su Dongpo fell silent, suddenly realizing just how foolish and ignorant he really was."
Yes, I’m truly a dunce Living among trees and plants. Please don’t question me about illusion and enlightenment — This old fellow just likes to smile to himself.
I wade across streams with bony legs, And carry a bag about in fine spring weather. That’s my life, And the world owes me nothing.
Ryōkan Taigu (良寛大愚?) (1758–1831) was a quiet and eccentric Sōtō Zen Buddhist monk who lived much of his life as a hermit. Ryōkan is remembered for his poetry and calligraphy, which present the essence of Zen life.
If an inaudible whistle blown between our lips can send him home to us, then silence is perhaps the sound of spiders breathing and roots mining the earth;
it may be asparagus heaving, headfirst, into the light and the long brown sound of cracked cups, when it happens.
We would like to ask the dog if there is a continuous whir because the child in the house keeps growing, if the snake really stretches full length without a click and the sun breaks through clouds without a decibel of effort, whether in autumn, when the trees dry up their wells, there isn't a shudder too high for us to hear.
What is it like up there above the shut-off level of our simple ears? For us there was no birth cry, the newborn bird is suddenly here, the egg broken, the nest alive, and we heard nothing when the world changed.
Lisel Mueller, 'Alive Together: New and Selected Poems'
"I notice that I have to pay careful attention in order to listen to others with an openness that allows them to be as they are, or as they think themselves to be. The shutters of my mind habitually flip open and click shut, and these little snaps form into patterns I arrange for myself.
The opposite of this inattention is love, is the honoring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery." Anne Truitt on Compassion, Humility, and How to Cure Our Chronic Self-Righteousness
“I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our friends with the stability of type that literary characters acquire in the reader's mind.
No matter how many times we reopen 'King Lear,' never shall we find the good king banging his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion with all three daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma rally, revived by the sympathetic salts in Flaubert's father's timely tear. Whatever evolution this or that popular character has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for them.
Thus X will never compose the immortal music that would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accustomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circumstances can Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our minds, and the less often we see a particular person, the more satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our notion of him every time we hear of him.
Any deviation in the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anomalous but unethical. We could prefer not to have known at all our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age has seen.”
1. I wonder what people in my life think when I send them long, rambling letters. I write them when I am entirely out of sorts, but I write them when the cusp is full, too. I rarely get many replies, at least, not as much as I would like to have in return—another voice in the dark whispering back, so as to remind me I am not alone.
2. I wonder if I write letters because I am alone. I wonder if I write this—all of this—because I want to extend my hand in front of me, hoping the tips of my fingers will touch you all the way there. Because—well, whatever for, yes?
"Speed in work has compensations. Speed gets noticed. Speed is praised by others. Speed is self-important. Speed absolves us. Speed means we don't really belong to any particular thing or person we are visiting and thus appears to elevate us above the ground of our labors. When it becomes all-consuming, speed is the ultimate defense, the antidote to stopping and really looking. If we really saw what we were doing and who we had become, we feel we might not survive the stopping and the accompanying self-appraisal. So we don't stop, and the faster we go, the harder it becomes to stop. We keep moving on whenever any form of true commitment seems to surface.
Speed is also warning, a throbbing, insistent indicator that some cliff edge or other is very near, a sure diagnostic sign that we are living someone else's life and doing someone else's work. But speed saves us the pain of all that stopping; speed can be such a balm, a saving grace, a way we tell ourselves, in unconscious ways, that we are really not participating.
The great tragedy of speed as an answer to the complexities and responsibilities of existence is that very soon we cannot recognize anything or anyone who is not traveling at the same velocity as we are. We see only those moving in the same whirling orbit and only those moving with the same urgency. Soon we begin to suffer a form of amnesia, caused by the blurred vision of velocity itself, where those germane to our humanity are dropped from our minds one by one. We start to lose sight of any colleagues who are moving at a slower pace, and we start to lose sight of the bigger, slower cycles that underlie our work. We especially lose sight of the big, unfolding wave form passing through our lives that is indicative of our central character.
On the personal side, as slaves to speed, we start to lose sight of family members, especially children, or those who are ill or infirm, who are not flying through the world as quickly and determinedly as we are. Just as seriously, we begin to leave behind the parts of our own selves that limp a little, the vulnerabilities that actually give us color and character. We forget that our sanity is dependent on a relationship with longer, more patient cycles extending beyond the urgencies and madness of the office."
David Whyte, 'Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity'
"Throughout our lives, we come to inhabit the seven layers of identity, often interpolating between them and constantly changing within each. And yet somehow, despite this ever-shifting seedbed of personhood, we manage to think of ourselves as concrete selves — our selves.
Hardly any perplexity of human existence is more fascinating than the continuity of personal identity — the question of what makes you and your childhood self the “same” person, despite a lifetime of change, from your cells to your values.
Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert captured this paradox perfectly: “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished.”
If we could, like the trees, practice dying, do it every year just as something we do— like going on vacation or celebrating birthdays, it would become as easy a part of us as our hair or clothing.
Someone would show us how to lie down and fade away as if in deepest meditation, and we would learn about the fine dark emptiness, both knowing it and not knowing it, and coming back would be irrelevant.
Whatever it is the trees know when they stand undone, surprisingly intricate, we need to know also so we can allow that last thing to happen to us as if it were only any ordinary thing,
leaves and lives falling away, the spirit, complex, waiting in the fine darkness to learn which way it will go.
Listen. It’s morning. Soon I’ll see your hand reach for my watch, the water will agitate in the kettle, but listen. Traffic. I want your dreams first. And to slide my leg beneath yours before the day opens.
Wait. We slept late. You’ll be moody, the phone will ring, someone wanting something. Let me put my hands in your hair. Who I was last night I would be again. This is how the future holds me, how depression wakes with us; my body shelters it. Let me put my head on your breast. I know nothing lasts.
I would try to hold you back, not out of meanness but fear. Oh my practical, my worldly-wise. You know how the body falters, falls in on itself. Tell me that we will never want from each other what we cannot have. Lie. It’s morning.
You need a reason, any reason—skiing, a job in movies, the Golden Gate Bridge. Take your reason and drive west, past the Rockies. When you’re bored with bare hills, dry flats, and distance, stop anywhere.
Forget where you thought you were going. Rattle through the beer cans in the ditch. If there’s a fence, try your luck—they don’t stop cows. Follow the first hawk you see, and when the sagebrush trips you, take a good look before you get up.
The desert gets by without government.
Crush juniper berries, breathe the smell, smear your face. When you wonder why you’re here, yell as loud as you can and don’t look behind. Walk. Your feet are learning.
Admit you’re afraid of the dark. Soak the warmth from scabrock, cheek to lichen. The wind isn’t talking to you. Listen anyway. Let the cries of coyotes light a fire in your heart. Remember the terrible song of stars—you knew it once, before you were born.
Tell a story about why the sun comes back.
Sit still until the itches give up, lizards ignore you, a mule deer holds you in her eyes. Explain yourself over and over. Forget it all when a scrub jay shrieks. Imagine sun, sky, and wind the same, over your scattered white bones.