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Being Brought Low

IMG_8865Living in India for nine years, you see difficult things—sights and experiences there are few words to adequately describe, that must be experienced to be grasped, and even then, can barely be comprehended. When you see the multitudes of families who’ve lived on the streets for their entire lives, breathing in street fumes and traffic, you understand how it is that India has the highest rate of death from respiratory illnesses of anywhere in the world, and why it is children who lack food, education and opportunity beg at street corners. People maim themselves in order to make more money begging. One quarter of India’s population has no access to water. In developed countries, toilets require water. In India, the majority have no toilet. According to Bloomberg’s website, 638 million people defecate in the open, a habit that creates serious health concerns and adds to the continued grime and stench people live in. Most of us prefer to live in a world where we feel safe and have at least a modicum of control over what happens to us. In India, millions don’t often have that choice. How can such disparity continue decade after decade? The German poet, Rilke, writes,

You darkness, that I come from,
I love you more than all the fires
that fence in the world,
for the fire makes
a circle of light for everyone,
and then no one outside learns of you.

Those standing in the circle of wealth fence in the world with safety and warmth. We use our wealth and opportunity to make plans, create dreams, and carry them out. Perhaps you’ve read stories like Elie Weisel’s Night, depicting the experiences of those who suffered in concentration camps in WWII. If you’re like most people, you don’t want to suffer. Myths, stories, sacred texts, and the seasons themselves tell us that loss comes before renewal. Nevertheless, at some point—through illness, loss, through confrontation with old age or death, we’ll all be brought low.

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Before moving to India, though I recognized I had a lot to learn, I thought of myself as a basically good person. I aimed to live conscientiously—to be kind and fair. I tried to avoid wasting resources, and aimed to follow the Golden Rule. The quantity of India’s need is overwhelming, however. Living there, I realized that all my “goodness” was not enough to meet India’s Everest of needs. Responding to the need I saw everywhere around me was beyond bearing. I continuously looked at that mountain’s heavy weight, and it made me think about God’s depth, God’s mercy. I did my work—teaching young students how to read and write, how to examine the world and wonder and describe how it might be different, hoping by some miraculous trickle down method, the students would someday, as adults, find professions that would enable them to address and meet the poor’s needs who lived in places like Delhi. While working in India, I did a few things beyond the classroom to address the needs of others around me. I led some teacher training workshops at the Tibetan Children’s Village School, for example. India’s poor continued to struggle, however, my efforts a tiny seed in the Sahara of need.

Physical poverty isn’t the only kind of poverty, however. Edward Hirsch’s poem, “Lay Back the Darkness,” describes suffering just as difficult to bear—that of a son observing his elderly father who has lost his mental faculties. The father shuffles between rooms, lost. Once, the father “could charm everything.” Now he stands amongst the shadows “on an obscure mission through the hallway,” unable to “remember what he meant to say.” The son, in anguish, cries out, “Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream/ and ease his restless passage.” This is not loss brought on by economic disparity or government corruption. Physical decline is a common, natural experience as life changes form when a person ages and moves toward death. The son in the poem loves his father, and remembers who his father once was, though that presence no longer inhabits his father’s body. Existence is ever evolving energy, shifting from one form to another. If, however, we’re more than our positions in society, our accomplishments and personality, our bodies, what are we? What is the soul? What is it we do when we love and give ourselves to a relationship? Dylan Thomas wrote, “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age.” I was raised to believe in God, to be able to give certain answers about who or what God is—the maker of heaven and earth, for example, and the God inside the Biblical stories. Maybe the force Thomas speaks of is God. Maybe to connect to God is to learn, as did the prophets, to attune ourselves to the energy that moves through not only ourselves, but through all that is.

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Maybe, however, God is wider than that description. Riding down a freeway, gazing at the ever-flowing streams of cars, or sitting in a room conversing with friends I’ve not seen in years, I sense the marvel of human existence, and wonder at its meaning.

What God really is, is mystery. Hirsch’s poem is a prayer, to “lay back the darkness,” to bring illumination. At the end of the poem, Hirsch describes his father, who in his final days has become

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,
to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops.

Prayer doesn’t need words. Prayer is standing humbly in silence before the vastness of all that is, and listening. This the father does. Genesis describes God creating all that is out of the void’s chaos. Hirsch depicts the father entering, again, the place of chaos, moving back to the void from which all things arose, a child, once more at the beginning of a journey. Life emerges from emptiness.

Confrontation with questions we have no answers for—with illness, suffering, or needs greater than can ever be met, is to stand at the edge of a forest listening to the distant cry of wolves—is to step into mystery. We need to put ourselves alongside such suffering. It is a necessary darkness. Rilke ends his poem about darkness, I earlier quoted from by saying, “I have faith in nights.” Suffering helps us learn to live. When we experience separation from others, from ourselves, or can’t find what we need in life to be whole, we suffer. We long for wholeness, as did Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We long to be changed, even though we don’t know how or by what means. Rumi speaks of this in his poem, “Love Dogs,”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union,

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

My mother had Alzheimer’s, my father dementia. If I don’t end up wandering the halls in old age, I will still be brought low. All die. I don’t have answers for many things, but I can hear the love dogs moaning in my soul. What can I do, but open my arms and say, “Here I am.”

Beauty, creativity, spirtuality, Uncategorized

At The Edge of Emptiness

“Prayer begins at the edge of emptiness.”–Abraham Joshua Heschel

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Heschel’s words strike me because there are a lot of things I don’t have answers for. Aware of my smallness in face of the suffering around me every day, I stand at the edge of emptiness and cry out.

When riding out into traffic, I’ve started a practice of looking into beggars’ faces who come to my window, or when someone speaks to me in the market asking for money, or when I see who is suffering, a family living on the street, for example, also animals who suffer, and in my mind I say, “I wish you well.” It’s a kind of prayer, and though it’s not directly answering the needs they have, it’s a way to keep my heart open–to keep noticing even though I might not be able to help the person in the way they ask of me. I want to see their humanness, and to be reminded of my own weakness and vulnerability.

Certainly, even in the lives of the desperately poor, there also must be times of joy. Even so, the human need in Delhi, is great. All the arms reaching out, the eyes–the world’s needs are immense. This week Nepal has its worst earthquake since 1934. The suffering is enormous. It will take decades, to recover, life times to become new, and we feel the grief hanging in the air as we go about our day.

The poverty in this world is not made up of physical poverty only, however. There is poverty of spirit, poverty of heart, and this is where I think that those of us in the developed world have a great lack. Everywhere around us today, from psychologists like Martin Seligman and his ideas about flourishing, to religious leaders like Matthieu Ricard, people are talking about how to be happy. Even Pope Francis has come up with his list of 10 tips for a happier life such as taking time off to be with your family, and spending time in nature. People who study what makes us happy tell us that focusing on what brings us a sense of well being actually helps us to become happier, and of course that is a good thing. But sadness and melancholy are also a part of life, and experiencing sadness and melancholy can help us become more compassionate, as Courtney Stephens explains on this animated TED Ed lesson. We learn from our sadness how to be more human.

I don’t know how best to respond to the sadness in the world, the grief so many feel, but want to give something of myself to meet that need. One must start somewhere, however small. It’s the start that counts. It makes room for greater opening, and I know I need to open.

FullSizeRenderFor months now I have been working on poems on the subject of food. It has taken some time, longer than I expected because new ideas for poems keep surfacing. I am now nearing the end of the poems I want to write for this series. I hope I’ve written well enough that after putting the poems into a manuscript I’ll find a publisher so I can use the proceeds from its sale to give to an organization that helps prevent hunger here in India. I hope it will be of some good. In the process of writing these poems, I’ve also been rereading about creativity, and returned today to Rilke’s Letters To a Young Poet where I read,

“…Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.

In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast. I learn it every day of my life, learn it with pain I am grateful for: patience is everything!”

The need in India has been here for decades. It’s not going to go away in the near future. The sidewalk on the street where I live is in a perpetual state of change. It’s put together one month only to be torn up the next, a metaphor for my own incompleteness–of starting over, trying to make things work, change, to get things “right.” Whatever it is that causes that sidewalk to have to be torn up so often is a mystery. It’s just the way things are here. Likewise, whatever it is we are making or doing with our lives, it isn’t necessarily what we see on the surface. What’s really happening comes from a place far deeper, beyond the reach of our own understanding. I look into the face of my partner who I’ve known for decades now, and find him still a mystery, and stand in wonder. Who am I, I don’t even really know. Definitions, lists and examples aren’t enough to explain. Similarly, how can I in any way touch or meet the vast needs of a world as immense as India? I can’t. As Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 65,

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea,IMG_4080
But sad mortality o’er sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of battering days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong but Time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall Time’s best jewel from Time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O! none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.

We are all frail and mortal. Beauty’s action may be no stronger than a flower, but still we need that flower. We all need to be touched, to be met, to be needed. So, I write on, my words, tiny splotches on computer screens of light wavering inside the colossal of India’s immensity, prayers of pale petals– ink floating down the Yamuna hoping to touch other lives.

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Finding Ourselves and the Poetry of Maria Mazziotti Gillan

While looking for new ideas for teaching poetry this past week, I discovered a wonderful writer, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, an Italian American poet whose poetry recreates scenes with such vivid detail that you are literally inside the setting with her, living what it is she relates. In her poem, “My Daughter at 14: Christmas Dance,” Gillan puts the reader directly into the scene and the mind of a mother’s discussion with her daughter about her daughter’s experience at a dance. You feel the tension the mother experiences in wanting to support her daughter as at age 14, she learns to navigate emotions and relationships. While reading, you’re firmly aware of the difficulty and tension the mother experiences as she walks the line between affirming and cautioning her daughter.

We ride through the rain-shining 1 A.M.
streets. I bite back words which long
to be said, knowing I must not shatter your
moment, fragile as a spun-glass bird,

you, the moment, poised on the edge of
flight, and I, on the ground, afraid.

photo-8
Alberico Gaetano Pacifico Citrino with son

You feel the human dilemma poignantly in this poem–the difficulty and challenge in knowing how to understand the needs of the situation and to love another in a way that allows freedom and growth–blossoming, rather than fear.

In another of her poems, “Betrayal,” Gillan describes a daughter’s embarrassment of her Italian-American father when she was younger, her mortification at his yellow teeth, how he drank coffee from a saucer, and how he didn’t speak standard English. Then, as a grown woman, the tables are turned, and the daughter’s son finds her embarrassing and tells her so. The daughter remembers an earlier moment in her youth and how she treated her father,

 

I was sixteen when you called one night from your work.
I called you “dear,”
loving you in that moment
past all the barriers of the heart.
You called again every night for a week.
I never said it again.
I wish I could say it now.

Dear, my Dear,
with your twisted tongue,
I did not understand you
dragging your burden of love.

It takes most of us a long time to truly hear each other, to comprehend others’ lives on a deeper level. A recurring theme in Gillan’s poems is the theme of shame about social class, and how that gets in the way of understanding each other. It has been years since the last time I read Dickens’ Great Expectations, but after reading Gillan’s poems this past week, I am reminded of scenes from the Dickens’ novel where Pip, too, is ashamed of his father. Pip, an orphan, also was raised in a working class family. He gains education through the generous gift of anonymous benefactor (that happens to be a convict, though he doesn’t know it at the time) and with that education, a growing sense of shame for his humble social class origins develops. “I wished Joe had been rather more genteelly brought up, and then I should have been so too,” Pip explains. His stepfather, Joe, dearly loves Pip, but with Pip’s growing sense of status and pride, he finds his relationship with Joe awkward and visits less and less often. It’s not until much later, when he learns who his benefactor is that Pip is able to move beyond his false sense of self, and build a view of the world that enables him to move beyond his fixation on relationships where he projects on to them his own desires for status and power and that caused him suffering. Gillan’s poems, too, demonstrate the kind of understanding about the self and others that comes through time,  experience, and suffering that allows empathy to grow.

The most powerful of Gillan’s poems that I read this past week was her poem, “Daddy We Called You.” The visual details in the writing are perfectly chosen to help the reader envision the scene of the daughter in the poem speaking with her boyfriend under a streetlamp light while never aknowledging her father’s presence as stands nearby at the bus stop, waiting for a bus to take him home from work. The daughter is ashamed of her father’s inability to speak standard English, embarrassed of his being an unskilled laborer in a world that honors status. Now, as an adult looking back at everything her papa did, the daughter recognizes the love her father had for her and for the family. That love was the foundation beneath her father’s life. Gillan portrays so well the kind of commitment fathers of this generation often had to their families–a commitment not given in words but lived out in faithful dedication to providing for their families, often through difficult physical work.

John Peter Citrino
John Peter Citrino

The final lines of “Daddy We Called You” demonstrate the awareness that time brings the daughter in this poem as she sees beneath her father’s actions to the heart of who he is–the way he bore up under  hard work and difficulty because of his devotion to his family. The photos here in this post are from Citrino family history because these men, too, like my own father, and those in the Gillan’s poem, were fathers who worked long hours not for themselves and their own reputations, but out of love and dedication to their families–in order to give their children a chance to do something with their lives more than they themselves had the opportunity to do.

In a world today where money and status are power, Gillan affirms in this poem the dignity of those those around us who are often ignored because of their humble positions in life. Yet it is because power and status are not the center of their sense of self that these very people in their humility can, if we have eyes to see, restore us to a sense of what is truly valuable: our commitment to relationships with others. Humble people, those unconcerned with status and whose lives are not centered around their own egos and desires like the father in Gillan’s poem, treat others with love and respect even though people around them may ignore them and fail to return their love. This strength of character demonstrates a way of living and being that are sorely needed in our world. Gillan’s poem closes with these lines,

Papa,
silk worker,
janitor,
night watchman,
immigrant Italian,
better than any “Father Knows Best” father,
bland as white rice,
with your wine press in the cellar,
with the newspapers you collected
out of garbage piles to turn into money
you banked for us,
with your mouse traps,
with your cracked and calloused hands,
with your yellowed teeth.

Papa,
dragging your dead leg
through the factories of Paterson,
I am outside the house now,
shouting your name.

The daughter shouts the name aloud because she finally sees who he is; she proclaims his name unashamed, and sees who she is in relationship to her father. Both powerful and moving, the poem closes in a moment of redemption. Wholeness is restored.

You can hear Maria Mazziotti Gillan reading the audio version of this poem here. I recommend it. You can also read the full words of the poem here.

What is it we hold as most precious in our lives? What do we live for from day to day? Italian American immigrants were mostly illiterate. Their ambitions weren’t to make it rich. Their central value was relationship–to provide for their families. The table is the symbolic center of that life, a gathering round in appreciation of the sustenance that bonded them. Whatever our heritage, it is good to be reminded of our roots–the earth and the bounty given there that holds us up, and then enables us to hold each other. We hold each other as we stand beside each other through each difficulty life gives. We are present, affirming the value and gift in the presence of each other.

Why are these poems important–poems about immigrants, about Italian immigrants? Italian immigrants were one of the largest groups of immigrants to the U.S., and yet their story isn’t well known. But more than this, these poems are important because most of us today, live with a mix of cultures and social class all around us. At the same time, there is so much misunderstanding between cultures and the social classes. The German poet, Rilke said, “Love consists of this: two solitudes that meet, protect and greet each other.” We need these poems because we need to learn how to see past the media representations of the “other” and find how to be human together. We need to discover how to find and be our true selves underneath the weight of what we see in advertisements, propaganda or other projections of what we think we should be. “For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation,” says Rilke. This is the true work of our lives, whatever it is we do or occupy ourselves with, and this is what Gillan’s poems reveal.

gardening, poetry

Coming Back to the Garden

Gratitude Gardens
Gratitude Gardens

I sit looking out over my yard while I write, the sun neither too warm nor too weak– a perfect gentleness for a summer afternoon. I see the stone steps under the grape arbor, and the thyme that fits between the cracks, and think of how those cracks are like the summer holiday, the space in my life that I am hungry for. The quiet. I sit here satisfied simply to absorb the green and the random dove or falcon call. At unexpected moments the scent of redwood or pine wafts through. Restaurants and movies can be good. Shopping for supplies is necessary. But many of us also need to walk in the woods, go down to the river or ocean, sit by flowers or a slab of granite, or get our hands in the dirt to find ourselves again. I am one of those. This morning I decided to read Rilke again, and pulled from my shelf the volume of Selected Poems From Rainer Maria Rilke with translation from Robert Bly. In his A Book for the Hours of Prayer, Rilke writes,

1.
I live my life in growing orbits
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.
I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years,
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon, or a storm,
or a great song.

As a traveler, I’ve circled around the globe exploring and discovering, but there is another kind of travel, that of the inner pilgrim, traveling within trying to understand what it means to live and how to live meaningfully so that we can learn who we are and why we are here on earth–what it means when we meet and greet each other, what it means to be in relationship to others, to the earth, to this place in time. Like Rilke, I don’t know if I will ever achieve this, but this is my attempt.

Herb Bed at Gratitude Gardens
Herb Bed at Gratitude Gardens

Here on my land while watering the garden, pulling weeds, or planting, I realize how deeply satisfied I am, how little it takes to make me feel content. I feel settled inside, whole. All the years of travel and exploration, these have been good. But the continuous striving that the workplace emphasizes seems irrelevant here in a garden that holds to an organic pace of being. Things grow according to the pace they were meant to grow at. The gardener nurtures them along by making sure there is adequate soil and light, plants the plants with others they are compatible with, tomatoes with basil for example, or strawberries with borage–but the true becoming is there in the mystery of biology and the seed. All the years of working and the practice of my work, reading, writing, and then I come home to the garden and sense I have found my true self, or it is at least a place I want to find myself in.

A metaphor for life, the garden has much it can help us understand about ourselves: that there are seasons and cycles for everything, the value of weeding to protect the life you are nurturing, that plants have personalities so to speak–some need more sun, others shade, which plants help them grow better, make them taste sweeter, and which protect. Gardens take work. If you want something to grow, you have to put in the effort by digging, planting, tending, and harvesting. Gardening can be a contemplative act. When you get your hands in the soil, you start to understand the connections to your own life. These are the connections I want to explore and know through our experiment in living here at Gratitude Gardens, a garden we are slowly building over the years here on our land.

At Gratitude Gardens we will raise our food and use the garden as a place to connect to the creative process in a variety of forms, for writing and art. We have planted herbs, flowers, grapes and fruit trees, and this summer are expanding the raised beds to make way for future food. Most anything we practice intentionally with our hearts can be a spiritual path that will teach us more of how to live if we are willing to view it in that way. For me, building a garden is an important part of that practice, and I want to believe there are others like me who feel hungry for the quiet, want to connect or reconnect to the earth and learn how to listen to what it has to tell us about life.

Gratitude Garden in its Beginning Stage
Gratitude Garden in its Beginning Stage

Adam and Eve left the garden. Everyone leaves. It’s the path of learning, knowing, of growing up. But we can come back too. We can make a garden. Yes, it’s made by the sweat of the brow, but that is an important part of learning what the gift of a garden is, and learning how to find yourself in one.

Maybe you, too, “have been circling for a thousand years,” or feel you have, and like Rilke, “still don’t know you “are a falcon, or a storm, or a great song.” Why not go on inner pilgrimage? Discover and claim your path so you can find through that work how it is you can come back to the garden.

Uncategorized

Finding Courage

I receive weekly messages in my box from Joan Chittister, of Monasteries of the Heart, and this past week when I received her message, I couldn’t help but think she was speaking directly to me as I am seriously asking what am I meant to do with my life. Here are Chittister’s words:

“We are all on our way to somewhere, however undefined, however unconscious. Without really knowing it, perhaps, we spend our days looking for the way out of the maze of indecision, of discomfort, of unfinishedness that can so easily become the soul’s permanent residence. We struggle for the way to an egress that is not there. We live looking for something that beckons but is not clear. Why? Because we can feel it within us, that’s why. It never quiets; it never sleeps. It just keeps urging us on. But to where? Answer: to nowhere I know, to do nothing I can see right now. Sometimes closer than others, always tantalizing, always just out of reach; the feeling of being in the wrong place gets so strong it can be painful.

The problem is that without clear intention, without ever stopping long enough to determine where we will end up if we stay on the road we’re on now, the purpose of life can sink into the routine of routine and little more. We simply go along, turning with the turns in the road but never plotting a course of our own. Never facing the single greatest question of life: Why was I born? Meaning, what am I meant to be? What was I made to do?

If those questions are never dealt with, never answered, then we may be breathing but we are not fully alive.

We must come to understand that the residual dissatisfaction with life as we have shaped it for ourselves is the very essence of what we name “call.” Clearly, it is at the moments of dissatisfaction with life as we know it now that the door to the future swings open for us. There is something missing in the making of who we are meant to be that we are being goaded to pursue.”

I have chosen to be a teacher, and have truly loved what I do, but something is goading me these days from inside, making me wonder if I am really giving to my life the fullness of all I can be, all I am here on Earth for.  When I listen closely, I am hearing a still, small voice rising up saying there is something more to become and do, what you have been doing so far has just been the preparation. There is another life in the making, working its way slowly toward birth.

If you look at the flowers after they go to seed, like the lettuce that is currently turning to seed in our window box, you will see that before death, there is the seed. The seed can give birth to new life once planted. What especially intrigues me in Chittister’s words above is that the answer she gives for where to go when we are searching for our new direction in life. Of course most of us want that place we go to to be somewhere concrete and tangible, somewhere secure, but Chittister tells us the place we go to is “to nowhere I know, to do nothing I can see right now.”  This is the existential leap, isn’t it–the faith or courage to step out when you can’t see?

Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands according to one’s courage.” Learning to live with courage is a bit like rock climbing. My husband Michael took me rock climbing in the early years of our relationship. When I did my first climbs, I wanted to cling to the rock and pull my body in close to it. The rock seemed so solid and safe, but in reality, to keep my balance when climbing it was better to stand up on my toes and give myself a bit of distance from the rock. That was non intuitive and a bit frightening, but when I did it, I could see how much easier it was to climb up the rock’s face.When we reach out for this new place we want to go with our lives, it seems intuitive to want to hold on to something secure and solid. Maybe this is the right thing to do if you want another version of what you already have, but what if you want a whole different way of living and being?

I don’t know. And I don’t know if I’m ready for the big leap into the dark at this point. Change that endures is, or needs to be a process of organic growth, a slow process of change over time. Can a person become more courageous through practice? I don’t know.  But I can practice going toward a place of change in small ways. I can use my mind and imagination to stretch out into the unknown. Arms open, I can sit quietly saying to the universe, “Here I am,”  practicing opening to a new way of living in my heart. I can lean in to life and listen for the way I should walk. As the Thai proverb says, “Life is so short, we must move very slowly.” Slowing down purposefully each day can help me to listen to what it is my life is telling me. I can pause purposefully each day and come home to myself in an attitude of openness to what it is I am being called toward in those areas I feel dissatisfied with, and simply listen for what is surfacing.

Since all of life is a journey and the process is just as important, if not more important than the end of the journey, while waiting to understand what the next direction of my life should be, it is important, in the mean time, that I go to work and let myself dwell with the questions and uncertainty as an important part of the process. There is deep value in living out the questions, as Rilke pointed out in his letters to a young poet, until you someday live into the answer. Living with the uncertainty in this way allows for the answer, when it eventually becomes clear, to be understood from the inside. The work I have now, and the way I give myself to that work is the seed of the work I will be able to do in the future, when I have transformed into a different way of working, living and being.

Though part of me wants to know what the next phase of my life is, I recognize that I don’t need to know the plan. I can just walk step by step toward knowing. I don’t have to become all at once. At our wedding ceremony, Michael and I had a friend read the passage from The Velveteen Rabbit where the rabbit is asking the skin horse about what it means to be real and the horse tells him, “Real isn’t how you are made…It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long, time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” Maybe you need to love your questions, need to live with, walk with and love them, so that when you live into the answers, you can speak them from the heart.The journey is as important as the destination. We have the gift of time to learn. Each day is our gift. I want to see the questions as a gift.

Buddhist priest and author, Thich Nhat Hahn in a conference for educators here in India in September of 2008 spoke about how important it is that headmasters at schools take care of the teacher in order to take care of those they are educating. I am not a headmaster, but I want to discover more of what I can do as an educator in order to take care of myself so that I do not pass on to my students a sense of over-activeness. Deep understanding arises from a calm mind. Feeding the mind, body and spirit the nutrients and qualities it needs in order to nourish our own spirits and those of who we meet–that is the foundation I want to act from.

In his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton, quoting Quaker professor and theologian, Douglas V. Steere said:

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.

I belong to a culture of activism where doing is important. But perhaps there is too much of life given over to doing. Without pause, without a balance of being, the doing looses impact and meaning, and I want to live a life of meaning–to live with more weight given to being. I can’t learn how to live this by myself. I am not strong enough to pull against the tides of culture. There are others who seek greater balance between doing and being. How can we together walk our way toward a different way of living?

Today it is hot, the air, still, as I look outside my living room. But the monsoon wind and rain is sure to arrive soon.