art, poetry, spirtuality, Uncategorized

Letting Go

Standing before the glass at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I watched as sardines swirled in graceful, ribboned unison, turning then splitting into two shifting forms, as over and again a hammerhead shark pierced through their fluid movement. To observe life under the sea’s surface is to enter another world that is our own but utterly different, and is perhaps the most otherworldly experience one might have. While staring at the fish, on one hand, a person could say that nothing much is happening: over and over one large fish chases other smaller ones. But from another view, the most essential thing is happening: you are observing life in all its mystery and it leaves you standing in awe. For a few moments you’re unaware of anything but the fishes’ movement as they glide as if in dance through the liquid blue, and you step into some larger universe where time dissolves.

Inside the ocean, life teems in myriad forms, yet we’re barely conscious of its presence, as most of us rarely encounter what is happening beneath the ocean’s surface in our day to day lives.  I would never know about the hammerhead chasing the sardines unless I were to dive into their world or view them in an aquarium. Would we miss their dance if they were no longer with us? Recently, I received a letter from a friend who mentioned that if he never published another poem, the world wouldn’t miss his voice. Most of us at one point or another have probably felt similarly. We work hard at what we do, we aim to accomplish something significant, but still we wonder if our lives have meaning to others. Does a tree, a forest, painting, piece of music, national park or act of simple kindness matter? Why should we learn to cook, build a house, grow a garden, write a story or read one? The universe is enormous and full of fecundity. What does it matter that we create or that we protect the natural world, make space for beauty or nurture others’ creative effort? Would the world miss Dostoevsky, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Martha Graham or Aretha Franklin if they had never produced their work?

Maybe we can’t miss what we’ve never known or experienced. We tend to take in the world we’re given, absorbing it like food, and whatever we’re given becomes part of our being. We can go through our days somewhat routinely, not necessarily sensing a need for reflection. At the same time, however, something in us hungers to be in relationship to something larger than ourselves. We wouldn’t know what we had missed if the artists who produced their creative work never did so, but our world is certainly fuller, our inner lives richer because of them. To reduce or obliterate voices both nonhuman and human— the forests, animals, music, art, stories or other creative work is to diminish existence, reduce wonder, and to take away our souls.

Though the hammerhead chasing the sardines in the aquarium was beautiful to watch, what I was watching may have also been one animal seeking to make dinner out of another. Death and life are interconnected. To be born is to also to learn you will die. Simply to eat, whether animal or vegetable, something else gives its life in order to sustain our own. All of life is transition. Day follows night follows day. Always, we’re leaving behind one state to enter another. To love someone is to know you will also someday lose the one you love. We leave our parents’ home to enter a larger world. We enter a relationship of love, letting go of something of ourselves in order to expand our lives. Perhaps we move to a new location or a new country. In doing so, we gain a new understanding of the complex diversity and multiple realities coexisting in the world. As we age we lose things—our hair, our vision, our strength. With each transition we make in life we lose something. In turn, what we lose asks us to enlarge our internal selves. To love means to be in relationship, and relationship gives life meaning. The world we breathe and move in is alive and also fragile. Writers, and artists in general, invite us to take off our protective armor and become vulnerable again—to look deeply at our lives, to notice our relationship to the world around us, and to become more conscious of the reality that we stand in liminal space: aware both that we are alive, and understanding we will die. We’re living into as well as dying to each ongoing moment. To enter the world is to experience suffering as well as joy. The more we, like the ancient Biblical Job, can allow ourselves to stand in this awareness, the more we can move out of fear into a place of acceptance of all life brings us, even our own deaths–the biggest transition and opportunity of all to enlarge ourselves.

When we gaze at a school of fish whirling by or view minuscule jellyfish slowly drifting past an aquarium window, their transparent bodies radiating with moving iridescent light or when we lean our heads back to cast our vision into the midnight Milky Way, at stars so thick they have become mis, we catch our breath. Time stops and we stand in naked amazed awareness of creation. These moments may seem small, even insignificant within the press of responsibilities we often take on, but they are important. The accomplishments and creative energy of our lives, the things we hold dear—these reflect the impulse to live and thrive. They are the voice beneath our actions and inside our silences that say, “You are alive, and to be alive is a wonder.” Creative work, our own or appreciation of others’, allows us to touch life, feel its pulse. Our creative efforts may seem small even insignificant, but they are vital. They are efforts that whisper to us why we live. Life dwells in these moments and in the details that bring us into a world larger than our selves—into the mystery of our own being.

How beautifully Mary Oliver speaks of this in her poem, “In Blackwater Woods,”

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive. © Back Bay Books, 1983.

Deciduous trees burn with luminescent light during autumn as they move toward winter’s dormant stage. Here in Oliver’s poem, the trees in the woods are more than trees; they are lit candles. Similarly, Oliver implies, if we open the eyes of our souls, we can experience the world move from a space where we know the names of things and can categorize them back into a space of the nameless, allowing us to once more delight in their mystery. There are things worth understanding about life’s connection to loss, explains Oliver. Loss teaches us to hold ourselves open to our mortality. Hold the world dear, “against your bones knowing/ your own life depends on it;” Oliver writes, but at the same time our task is to learn to also let go of what we most love. This can be painful and very difficult, but in it, Oliver states, is fulfillment. In losing our life, we find it–ancient wisdom we learn and relearn. In letting go, we can become like autumn trees–lit candles, our lives rich incense others inhale.

poetry, Uncategorized

Blue Sky Time

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“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” but when the White Rabbit actually took a watch out if its waistcoat pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice startled to her feet. – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Since living in London, I’ve noticed how people seem to walk the streets with purpose and determination, and they walk fast, or at least faster than I’m used to seeing. Recently, I’ve begun to think of the rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and how easy it is to be a like him—anxious about where we’re going and if we’re going to make it on time. Time as marked by watches and clocks is an invention, yet as Glenn Aparicio Parry mentions in his article in the January/February issue of Resurgence and Ecologist, “Think of Time as Nature Thinks,” Time as we think of it today, measured out in precise linearly calculated capsules of existence, is an abstraction, and a somewhat recent phenomena. Previously, time was something people noticed as seasons change and animals migrated. Time was perceived as more circular, and things weren’t necessarily perceived as progressing and becoming better in the present than they were previously, Parry explains. Perry goes on to describe the Hopi, who had no words for the past, present or future. Instead, they believed things that things that happened previously were stored up and could be manifested later on. Events in this vision of time are a kind of interweaving.

I read Parry’s ideas, and wonder what the world would look and feel like if we lived with a different view of time. When you travel or live in a different culture, you enter a different reality, see through different windows. Richard Lewis, a linguist and one who studies cross-cultural phenomena, in his article in Business Insider, “How Different Cultures Understand Time,” describes some of the varying views of time. “Spaniards, Italians and Arabs will ignore the passing of time if it means that conversations will be left unfinished. For them, completing a human transaction is the best way they can invest their time.” The Japanese, Lewis describes, “must experience an unfolding or unwrapping of the significant phases of the event. It has to do with Asian indirectness, but in Japan it also involves love of compartmentalization of procedure, of tradition, of the beauty of ritual.” The view of time in Madagascar is different yet again, according to Lewis. “The Malagasy imagine the future as flowing into the back of their heads, or passing them from behind, then becoming the past as it stretches out in front of them. The past is in front of their eyes because it is visible, known and influential. They can look at it, enjoy it, learn from it, even “play” with it.”

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While Lewis’s descriptions are generalizations regarding the various cultures, the Anderson Institute, a high technology research institute devoted to finding scientific solution to space time physics problems, describes most Americans as “feeling rushed,” and that because the culture pressures people to “do more, earn more, and consume more,” people, feel rushed. While Americans essentially lack free time, because for us White Rabbits, checking our watches and how much we can get done, it’s difficult to relax. This is utterly different from the Pirahã people of the Amazon rainforest. The Anderson Institute website explains the Pirahã as using no art, having no letters, or numbers, and no concept of time. For them, everything exists in the present.

With these varying cultural concepts of time, we can see a connection between how people perceive time will create qualitatively different perceptions of existence as well. The question this raises is how might we live within a culture where time is linear, and yet still step into a wider, more generous sense of being so that we allow ourselves to experience the sacredness of existence and our relationship to the world around us. It seems this might only be possible if we have a clear vision of another way of being, and we hold other worlds inside us. The Caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland asks Alice, “Who are YOU?” Who we are is somewhat a mystery, even to ourselves. We hold multiple worlds within us. Who others see we are often depends on the context they know us in. Who we are can also vary depending on where we came from. Experiencing significant changes or defining moments in our lives such as deaths, births, or moving to a new culture, we might see ourselves like Alice who replied to the Caterpillar, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” But beyond the significant changes we might experience in our lives, and the multitude of transformations we might go through, underneath the exteriors of our housing, or occupations, our clothes, or cars, lies our essence, our common humanity, in touching that, we find our selves.

When I stand in the subway tunnels here in London, I look into the windows that flicker past as the trains move off down the tracks, and notice the myriad faces fluttering by, faces I glimpse for just a moment—the tired man wearing a baseball cap head bent in sleep, the woman with her perfectly combed hair and dangling earrings heading out for the evening, the travelers holding on to their luggage, lovers deep in conversation, a child leaning into a parent’s arm—the myriad of lives rushes by as in a moving picture. We move from one place to another, we see each other but don’t meet or know each other. We are not what we own, what we have or do. How can we find each other in our common humanity? “I am because you are,” is the meaning of Ubuntu, a way of being together understood by Africans who hold to traditional ways and shown on this short video from the Global Oneness Project.

20161001_160110Recently, I read a book of poems by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. Though Hikmet later won the International Peace Prize, as a Marxist, he spoke out against the use of power to oppress the common person in his home country, and wrote in his poems about his longing for those who were poor to have a better life. For his political beliefs, Hikmet was imprisoned for thirteen years and spent thirteen years in exile. Though his life was threatened even by those from within the communist party, Hikmet fervently held to his beliefs throughout his life. Reading his poems is a moving. While in solitary confinement in 1938, Hikmet wrote his poem, “Letters From a Man in Solitary.” In this poem, he describes carving his wife’s name into his watchband with his fingernail. He’s not allowed to see the sky, not allowed to talk with anyone. He describes to his wife the passing of time by the shadows that climb the walls. At the end of his poem, Hikmet writes,

And inside this is spring’s darkest hour.
In short, the demon called freedom,
with its glittering scales and fiery eyes,
possesses the man inside
especially in spring…
I know this from experience, my dear wife,
from experience…

Sunday today.
Today they took me out in the sun for the first time
And I just stood there, struck for the first time in my life
by how far away the sky is,
how blue
and how wide.
Then I respectfully sat down on the earth.
I leaned back against the wall.
For a moment no trap to fall into,
no struggle, no freedom, no wife.
Only earth, sun, and me…
I am happy.

What time is to a man in solitary confinement is utterly different than those pressed by time, and who like the White Rabbit are in a state of constant low grade anxiety, rushing to meet a schedule (though this is certainly an oppression and confinement of its own kind.) When Hikmet describes sitting down on the earth at last, after being held inside walls for so long, I felt the respect he describes, and the way the sky opened to him like the deepest heart of love, and gave him its blueness, its breadth—how utterly broken open he must have felt at that moment, and utterly alive with the full presence of being. Time is broken here. There is no clock. Just an entering into of all that is. These are moments we long for, when the world shifts, and we see we aren’t caught in watching the clock tick or the shadow move slowly up a wall. Instead of staring at face endlessly flickering past us tunneling their way toward the next station, we step inside the phenomenal essence of the material world and experience it as spirit and gift, perhaps even as love.

In her poem, “I Worried,” Mary Oliver writes,

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning
and sang.

Time doesn’t have to be a prison to escape from. Perhaps it’s time we find ways to learn from different cultures—to purposefully notice the walls we are living with. We can learn to tell ourselves different stories about time and what matters, and look for those who will join us in finding ways to sit respectfully on the earth, and lift our faces, to see the sky in all its blueness.

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gratitude, snorkeling, Tabitha Cambodia

Beauty and Reasons to Travel

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Hikkaduwa beach, Sri Lanka

A trip this week to Hikkaduwa beach in Sri Lanka got me wondering about how places we travel to change us. Some trips I’ve gone on I thought I would return from changed, that my eyes would be opened to some newer, deeper understanding of life, but that didn’t actually happen. Other travel, however, has left an indelible impression on me–such as the trip to southern Italy to visit the towns of San Lucido and Amantea and walk the streets where my husband’s grandparents came from, or the summer I spent in Guatemala helping with relief efforts after an earthquake, also my first trip to India when I saw the way people lived a life so different from my own, and how difficult life was for so many. After visiting Sri Lanka this week, I’m left feeling deeply grateful for the places on earth where greenery and beauty are still in tact, where people can breathe deeply and the air is pure, for places where people can restore themselves. Hikkaduwa beach is such a place.

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Tsunami memorial, north of Hikkaduwa

Maybe we should be able to transform our minds and way of being without visiting other lands or worlds, but travel can boost our potential to do that as it places us in entirely different realities operating under different rules and understandings. Walking around in such a world for even a few days can help us to see things don’t necessarily have to be how they currently are. Old patterns can be broken. Something new can emerge. What we perceive as fixed boundaries defining the way the world is or functions, we discover when traveling, is actually a social construct that people collectively build and uphold, and that can change. Whatever the actual cause–whether it is simply time away, or new connections made as a result of being as totally new environment, what seemed impossible before travel to a different location often seems doable after travel.

Over the years of living and working abroad, I’ve been able to travel many places, and doing so has given me a clearer picture of the world. Unlike a few decades ago, nowadays, of course, a person with Internet access can simply look up an area of interest and view absolutely wonderful images. The mosaics in Ravenna, I learned after reading in William Dalrymple’s book, From the Holy Mountain, together with those in the cathedral in Trastevere in Rome, are Europe’s best examples of Byzantine mosaics outside of Istanbul. Traveling to Ravenna isn’t currently possible for me, however, but the online 360 degree view of some of these mosaics online at this site is truly stunning, and it’s fantastic to be able to see them. Then there are the videos of locations, like those on this site of Ravenna, that you can also explore.

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Roadside grave from 2004 tsunami victims, Sri Lanka

Mini mind breaks that take us vicariously to other locations are not an adequate comparison to the kind of transformation that can occur from visiting a place in person, however. Traveling in person allows you to meet people, make connections, learn about history in context, find yourself in new contexts and situations, and to experience first hand the subtleties of a world built on different foundations. In the world today when so many are afraid of differences, it seems much good could come if people were able to travel often so that they could experience the contexts and causes that create various world views and realities. Perhaps we would find ourselves better able to listen to and understand those different from ourselves, and empathy between people would grow.

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Hikkaduwa home, Sri Lanka

On the other hand, the environmental state of the planet is a growing concern, and airline travel contributes to the unhealthy state of the environment, raising the question of when travel is justifiable. If we are traveling merely for pleasure, is the expenditure of fuel justifiable? When we arrive at the new location, does what we do there add to other’s lives in a positive, constructive way? It’s true that tourism is important to the economy of many places, but our current economic systems aren’t sustainable. If we care about the places we go to visit, and I do think that when we visit new places we generally have a greater affinity for them, how are we giving back something to these places as a result of our travel? How are we are connecting with a place  in a way that sustains it, as opposed to using it as a consumer–taking away from it what we can, and moving on to the next location? These are questions I’ve thought about for some time now.

A few alternative travel options people can try are opportunities like snorkeling with whale sharks in the Seychelles where a portion of the money you spend helps contribute to research and tagging efforts. Having done this previously, I can say it’s a fabulous experience–you have a close encounter with one of the most amazing animals on the planet, and you contributing to efforts to understand them better. If you want to read someone else’s blog post about this activity, see here. If you’re interested in places you can connect with to snorkel or dive with whale sharks, see here. Additionally, travelers can visit places like Ravenna and take a workshop where you learn to make a mosaic. The Shaw guides to art, writing, and other cultural workshops as well, lists thousands of learning travel opportunities around the world. An alternative option is travel where you can contribute to social efforts like helping to build houses with Tabitha Cambodia, something I’ve also done on several occasions and found a moving and valuable experience. All these reasons for travel are ways a person can either learn or give something back while traveling.

Still, just being in a new environment can broaden us, a bike ride through the mountains, for example, can help us understand the world in new ways. Sometimes a person just wants to see the art in France because of a love for art. Maybe others want to visit Eastern Europe to get a better sense of history there. Some people may want to climb Mt. Olympus because they loved their high school world history class and it would be a dream to visit the location in person. There are many reasons for desiring to travel and there are no simple guidelines for what are the right reasons to do it, but maybe one consideration to nurture could be how we might use our travel experiences to in someway give back to the world or enhance our relationship with others.

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Twilight, Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka

This weekend when I put on my snorkel and stuck my head underwater and saw the thousands of fish swirling about in the shallow pool just off shore, the eels poking their heads out of the rock, the lion fish with their striped fins floating next to the coral wall, and the juvenile emperor angel fish dancing about their tiny holes wearing their fancy blue, white and black patterns, I was filled with joy. It was, after all, Thanksgiving weekend in America, and I felt fully alive and grateful for the earth’s abundance, for the life given me to experience such beauty.  I don’t know if one person’s experience of beauty can ripple out to others in a way that helps to restore lives, but more and more, I’m convinced of beauty’s importance for our lives. From Ravenna to the fish floating in Hikkaduwa’s beaches, could it be possible that if more people experienced nature’s beauty, maybe more would want to cherish and protect it and fewer would be willing to trade it away for economic gain? I’m encouraged by Mary Oliver’s poem in Swan: Poems and Prose.

DON’T HESITATE
Mary Oliver
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happened better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Uncategorized

Taking Time to Live

In his book, Creating True Peace, Thich Nhat Hahn describes what life was like a number of decades ago when he was young, living in Vietnam, and people took time to live. He describes how people would organize a gathering– a poetry reading, birthday party, or party to mark the anniversary of a family member’s death, and how people would walk or bike to the reception, even if it took them all day or they had to leave the day before. When as many as four had arrived, they would be served food so they could eat together with others. When a fifth person arrived, that person waited for three more to arrive so they, too, could share their meal together. People sang, recited poetry, talked, and time was open and flexible so you could leave whenever you chose.  (p. 67) I’ve been trying to imagine what a life where relationships and being human together was more important than getting things done, where we have space to truly, deeply listen to each other and be heard, and when I came upon this description. I felt I got a glimpse of what that life might look like.

Thich Nhat Hahn describes another example that beautifully illustrates a way of living where people took time slowly, experiencing time in what I can only describe as deep living:

“Years ago in Vietnam, people used to take a small boat out into a lotus pond and put some tea leaves into an open lotus flower. The flower would close in the evening and perfume the tea during the night. In the early morning, when the dew was still on the leaves, you would return with your friends to collect the tea. On your boat, was everything you needed, fresh water, a stove to heat it, teacups, and a teapot. Then, in the beautiful light of the morning, you prepared the tea right there, enjoying the whole morning, drinking tea on the lotus pond.” (p. 68)

How astonishing and lovely that description is to me–to think that people had time to live like that. It’s interesting that these examples are found in his book about how to create peace, and this suggests to me that to be at peace has something to do with valuing time differently. Hahn asks the reader to consider, “Are we engaging in a lifestyle that touches the beauty and goodness within and around us, and leads us in the direction of compassion and understanding?… If what we now take refuge in—work, food, material comfort, television—cuts us off from our feelings, our family, and our society, it is not really a place of refuge. If our lifestyle numbs us to the reality of our suffering and that of others, we are moving in the wrong direction. We are isolating ourselves, and we are committing violence in the form of exclusion.” (p. 66) Beauty and goodness are values to be nurtured, and to nurture them requires space and time to grown organically if they are going to be places of refuge that enable us to give back to the world.

Thay’s quote reminds me of the quote I’ve included in earlier blog posts where Thomas Merton, quotes Douglas Steere, explaining that there is a “pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” To be peaceful, or to be a peacemaker in this world is difficult. It doesn’t mean doing good deeds. It’s more difficult. It means learning how to be peaceful, and that means making different choices in our everyday lives.

“Nowadays,” Thich Nhat Hahn says, “you may have a lotus pond, but you do not have the time to look at it, let alone enjoy it in that way.” Nevertheless, Thich Nhat Hahn clearly directs readers to understand the days given to us are our life, and are “much more precious than money.” How can we truly live quality lives today in a world where our social structures generally function in a way that make it easy for us feel like we are Charlie Chaplin in the film, Modern Times, where his job is to constantly focus on the next item coming down the conveyer belt? Chaplin doesn’t have time to scratch his nose when a fly distracts him, much less find time to take life slowly enough to savor it. If we don’t have time anymore to make lotus tea like Thich Nhat Hahn describes, how can we at least learn how to savor our lives so that we are not merely focused and productive at work, but are living fully?

It has been several weeks since I’ve begun including a short, close observation practice into each day with the aim to see how the practice might open up a space for seeing how I might live differently. It’s not been easy finding the time each day for this practice, and admittedly, some days the observation has only been a few seconds long–a remembering to glance at the light coming through the window as I continue on, working, focused on my responsibilities. Even so, during the day, the thought surfaces periodically–pay attention, pay attention to your life–and I realize I am so focused on my work, that awareness of other aspects of life narrows in a way that lessens me.

It might happen that I spend the whole day inside simply with the goal to be prepared for the day that follows. What, then, happens to the importance of family or close relationships when I do this? What happens to my awareness of the wider world around me? How am I being a model of wholeness when I say to others that these are important to living? Over time, if this pattern continues, I will be losing something very valuable. That small glimpse at the light through the window while continuing to work reminds me, that I’m supposed to be observing life so I can learn how to live. I’m put on earth to live. I am here to be alive, not merely to breathe and move and perform a function. The sense of obligation and commitment to my responsibilities at work wins out, even while the lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter Long Black Branches” in her book, West Wind, come to mind,

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

So, this weekend, something radical happened: I set my work obligations aside. Yes, and here’s the brief chronicle of what occurred: My husband and I talked during breakfast with family members at some length who’ve been in Italy for a month. We went grocery shopping, after which we took the metro across town to check out a new sporting goods store that might have shoes for the climbing club my husband works with. Using the public transport, we packed ourselves into the subway car with what must have literally been a thousand riders. It was a hot, tiring adventure that took most the whole day getting there and back. We had lunch at a market where we also bought a box of milk and had something repaired before returning home. After an hour’s rest, we went to a friend’s housewarming party where we met a number of new people, participated in several interesting conversations, and lit candles for an early celebration of the Indian Diwali holiday.

This morning I read the news, then weeded in the community garden with my husband. Later, I talked briefly with a friend I saw as I walked over to swim in the pool. After swimming, I worked on an art project in the clay room. This evening, my husband and I made dinner together, after which we watched a detective program on the computer.

It’s been ages since I’ve taken time off like this when not on a holiday. Actually, I feel as if I’ve had a holiday. I feel so alive! I could say it seems it takes so little to be so happy, but taking a weekend off isn’t really a small act. I don’t know how often I can put time aside like this, but I can truly say I feel more whole, more alive. I feel prepared to meet my students as a human being, not just as someone who has worked very hard. As a result, I have some questions about responsibilities that I didn’t have before. I have a responsibility to meet my students’ needs, to help them improve their skills, yes. But is the purpose of education only to help students compete eventually in a market place–on a job? I think not. The purpose of education is to help students discover who they are and how they can contribute to the world meaningfully. To live meaningfully means we also have a responsibility to live fully. To live fully means to pay attention to and nurture relationships with family, society, and the earth. Wouldn’t the world be better off if we all took time to grow these relationships? If we can’t do that, in whatever work we are involved in, we help those around us, including our children to do that. If we can learn how, then we will make it more possible for those around us to be able to live in ways that enable them to be more fully alive as well.

Some days my noticing practice has been a brief, purposeful glimpse through a window. Other days, observations seem to ride in to me on waves. Is the practice of daily observation leading me to see how to make a larger space for being, or was this past weekend a one time occurrence because of a natural break in a workload? I don’t yet know. What I do know is that the weekend has felt so enlivening, as if I’m living in a miracle, aware of the abundance of relationship. I am hoping to continue further down this path. I take my responsibility to my students at work seriously. To do that requires time. To live a full life requires giving oneself the space to be whole. This, too, requires time. Can the two be done together? Others have learned how, and maybe I can too.

Maybe you have some wisdom of your own about this path, dear readers. What does your journey look like? How does it feel?

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Self-Reliance and Interdependence

For many people the work place is a competitive arena where people carve out their territories as a way to gain, define, and hold power. American culture encourages people to be self-reliant, to do things on their own. We want to be able to think for ourselves and know we can make our way on the earth. We also want to be able to let other people do things for themselves so they can learn the strengths and abilities they wouldn’t know they had without putting in the effort to try things on their own. American poet, Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass tells us,
“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”

Last week, I experienced something very different, however. Two people I worked with asked me to help them out. I did so, and afterwards, they found success, but I also realized how happy it made me to know that I had something I could give them. Their dependence on me to meet their need affirmed my sense of purpose, made me feel loved, happy, and deepened my sense of belonging. Often, we tend to think that asking people for something might burden them–we should be able to do things on our own. Maybe it’s also a good thing to recognize that asking someone to help us can allow that person to give something he or she might be hoping someone recognized they had and wanted to share.

There is a lot of loneliness in this world. One in 10 people in Britain are lonely, says Vanessa Barford in her BBC article, “Is Modern Life Making Us Lonely?”   Loneliness can be triggered by big life changes or ill health. We lose our old ways of living, and the things that grounded us are removed. We fall out of balance and feel lost, alone. If one in 10 people in the UK feel lonely, it’s a good bet that they are not the only country this way.  Jane Dutton, business and psychology professor at the University of Michigan has been researching organizations that nurture inspiration and productivity, and “found that employees who’d experienced compassion at work saw themselves, their co-workers, and the organization in a more positive light,” (Greater Good, Compassion Across Cubicles) It’s true that some people prefer to be left alone and to learn things completely by themselves and it’s good to be able to discern this. It can also be true that doing things with and for others,letting others depend on you, to learn from you, can be a wonderful gift. Looking outside of the workplace into the broader areas of life, we might find that even just our presence with someone can be a way of giving that allows a relationships roots to grow, and happiness to blossom. We don’t have enough people in this world who are there to remind us that our presence–our being with them–is as important as what we do.

Relationships require allowing ourselves to become mutually interdependent. This interdependence can allow us to find ourselves in new ways, even find new freedoms. Commitments to a job, a place, a person can be viewed as something that confines us in the sense that by choosing one thing, we can’t always choose something else. But commitments aren’t merely limitations, they are a path that shapes us and carries us into a deeper understanding of ourselves–as any practice we take up can do. If you find that you’ve committed yourself to a job in a big city that makes it difficult for you to go out of doors, for example, it can be an opportunity to renew yourself in other ways. You can learn to draw, make things out of clay, or take up an instrument. You can find your way to new things and can continue to grow. We can change and open new doors, explore new rooms of being together. Mary Oliver, in her poem, “The Summer Day”, says,
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Circumstances lean in to us in ways that will make us want to move in a new direction and find new ways of being, and we can go there in relationship with others, as well as by ourselves.