Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Oh my! Diane Ackerman purdy much says it all...the anguish...the feelings of cosmic loneliness...of indelicacy...of fragility...of giant dreams....
I am feeling very pensive...and this piece of Ackerman's reflects it deeply and accurately.
WE ARE LISTENING
As our metal eyes wake
to absolute night,
where whispers fly
from the beginning of time,
we cup our ears to the heavens.
Avid, we are listening
on the volcanic lips of Flagstaff
and in the fields beyond Boston
in a great array that blooms
like coral from the desert floor,
on highwire webs patrolled
by computer spiders in Puerto Rico.
We are listening for a sound
beyond us, beyond sound,
searching for a lighthouse
in the breakwaters of our uncertainty,
an electronic murmur
a bright, fragile I am.
Small as tree frogs
staking out one end
of an endless swamp,
we are listening
through the longest night
we imagine, which dawns
between the life and time of stars.
Our voice trembles
with its own electric,
we who mood like iguanas
we who breathe sleep
for a third of our lives,
we who heat food
to the steaminess of fresh prey,
then feast with such baroque
good manners it grows cold.
In mind gardens
and on real verandas
we are listening,
rapt among the persian lilacs
and the crickets,
while radio telescopes
roll their heads, as if in anguish.
With our scurrying minds
and our lidless will
and our lank, floppy bodies
and our galloping yens
and our deep, cosmic loneliness
and our starboard hearts
where love careens,
we are listening,
the small bipeds
with the giant dreams.
~ Diane Ackerman ~
(Jaguar of Sweet Laughter)
Diane Ackerman, 61, is an American author, poet, and naturalist known best for her work A Natural History of the Senses. Her writing style, referring to her best-selling natural history books, can best be described as a blend of poetry, colloquial history, and easy-reading science. She has taught at various universities, including Columbia and Cornell, and her essays regularly appear in distinguished popular and literary journals.
She received her Ph.D.from Cornell University in 1978, where her dissertation advisor was Carl Sagan. Ms. Ackerman has received a D. Lit. from Kenyon College, Guggenheim Fellowship, Orion Book Award, John Burroughs Nature Award, and the Lavan Poetry Prize, as well as being honored as a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library. She also has the rare distinction of having a molecule named after her --dianeackerone. She has taught at a number of universities, including Columbia and Cornell. Her essays about nature and human nature have been appearing for decades in The New York Times, Smithsonian, Parade, The New Yorker, National Geographic and many other journals, where they have been the subject of much praise. She hosted a five-hour PBS television series inspired by A Natural History of the Senses.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
With classes just around the corner, this poetry selection from Panhala especially touched me this morning. I hope I learn to think that way and that my university experience supports this process! Robert Bly is definitely high on my list of heroes.
THINGS TO THINK
Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.
Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.
When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.
~ Robert Bly ~
Monday, August 23, 2010
Irby Hall, World Languages Building
I've been having a very hard time since I got back from my summer road trip odyssey. Those three months definitely left me in a different frame of mind than I started it with. Finding myself back here in Conway, AR, readying myself for the fall semester, has been tough. Clearly it's hard to compete with the wondrous experience I just got back from a week ago. I had registered for nine units last spring, three hefty upper division courses taught in Spanish with Spanish language texts:
Afro-Caribbean Cultural Studies
I have felt VERY anxious about returning to classes...and wondering if I should even continue...this after my rousing beginning and enthusiasm last fall and spring semesters. So this morning I went in to see a friend/yoga buddy, who is director of the university language lab. I needed some counsel!
As we were talking, the prof of the Spanish Civilization stopped by. The three of us began conversing and I let her know about being registered for the class. Well, between that lively repartee and the private dialogue with my friend, I left her office a bit more grounded and positive about returning.
Me with Krishna Das at the retreat
I have had something else on my mind since the Krishna Das _Heart As Wide as the World_ chanting retreat I participated in at the beginning of the summer odyssey. Music has always held a special place in my reality. Actually I started university studies as a music major, having studied classical piano through elementary and high school, and sung in various ensembles and choirs.
Soooooooooo...I was thinking about adding music back into the equation as a way of rebbing up the passion quotient, though I had no idea how to approach it. Since I was on campus, I decided to wander over to the music building. I began speaking to staff and, wouldn't you know, vocal auditions were being held this very morning! I ended up auditioning on the spot (I sang "Oh Rest in the Lord" from Mendelssohn's Elijah -- I had memorized it for a recital in 1960 and never forgot it), being accepted, and thus declaring a voice/music minor! I have thus added one more unit for the semester:
Individual Vocal Study
I'm still in a state of imbalance and emotional upheaval. I've decided that I need to significantly limit my SparkPeople participation during the school year. This will be VERY difficult, since SP fills many needs, not the least of which is contact with wonderful friends! I plan to post gratitudes online as much as possible, and that's about the extent of Spark time...other than answering notes to me. No blogging; no reading others' blogs; no following friends on SP. WAAAAAH! I believe this is what I need to do to make success this semester viable and though it's not my first choice(!) I intend to do my best to follow through on this resolve.
AND I need to find ways to CONSISTENTLY weave exercise into each week. My ongoing good health depends upon it, as well as my overall performance in life! I want to begin using free weights on a regular basis again and return to the fitness center to use the ARC machine (similar to the elliptical) several times a week. I have a 6-week yoga series ahead, that will begin on September 4 and I plan to ride my bicycle to classes regularly.
That's my pledge to myself. NOW let's see how I do! The semester begins Thursday, August 26.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
I add this poem with Thay's explanation as an addendum to the "Ending Violence" blog I just shared because, as he says, "'When i hear one of these names I have to say yes': proud members of the Military-Industrial complex, pacifists, youngsters trained to fight, wise teachers pointing the way, violent video games makers, mindful parents who guide their children into sound decision-making, youth attracted to and playing the games, permissive parents," etc., etc., ad infinitum:
From _Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life_, by Thich Nhat Hanh
_Peace Is Every Step_ was assembled by friends who used the author's lectures, published and unpublished writings, and informal conversations. It was originally published in the 80's. In it Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
"In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.
"There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
"When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
"After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The title of the poem is "Please Call Me by My True Names," because I have so many names. When I hear one of these names, I have to say, 'Yes.'"
CALL ME BY MY TRUE NAMES
Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to my
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh
(This poem was written in 1978 during the time of helping the boat people.)
Saturday, August 21, 2010
In reflecting about yesterday's blog on violence in video games, and all of the insightful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking responses, a comment of GENKI_WARRIOR's ("...makes me sad, the seeds of destruction we sow,") reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh's book, _Creating True Peace: Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community and the World_.
Because he is such a gifted writer I want to share direct excerpts from this powerful text, an antidote for the sickness evidenced by yesterday's blog:
"True peace is always possible. Yet it requires strength and practice, particularly in times of great difficulty. To some, peace and nonviolence are synonymous with passivity and weakness. In truth, practicing peace and nonviolence is far from passive. To practice peace, to make peace alive in us, is to actively cultivate understanding, love, and compassion, even in the face of misperception and conflict. Practicing peace, especially in times of war, requires courage.
"All of us can practice nonviolence. We begin by recognizing that, in the depths of our consciousness, we have both the seeds of compassion and the seeds of violence. We become aware that our mind is like a garden that contains all kinds of seeds: seeds of understanding, seeds of forgiveness, seeds of mindfulness, and also seeds of ignorance, fear, and hatred. We realize that, at any given moment, we can behave with either violence or compassion, depending on the strength of these seeds within us.
"When the seeds of anger, violence, and fear are watered in us several times a day, they will grow stronger. Then we are unable to be happy, unable to accept ourselves; we suffer and we make those around us suffer. Yet when we know how to cultivate the seeds of love, compassion, and understanding in us every day, those seeds will become stronger, and the seeds of violence and hatred will become weaker and weaker. We know that if we water the seeds of anger, violence, and fear in us, we will lose our peace and our stability. We will suffer and we will make those around us suffer. But if we cultivate the seeds of compassion, we nourish peace within us and around us. With this understanding, we are already on the path of creating peace.
"Included in these pages are examples of agreements that you can make with yourself, your partner, and your family. These treaties commit us to practice reconciliation and communication with loved ones, friends, colleagues, and other people with whom we live and work. They are concrete commitments to transform our lives.
"To make a personal peace treaty we can write: 'Dear Self, I promise to practice and live my daily life in a way that will not touch or water the seed of violence within me.' We are determined in every moment to protect ourselves from negative thinking and to nourish loving-kindness within us. We can also share this commitment with our beloved ones. We can go to our partner, our son or daughter, and say, 'My dear, my beloved one, if you really love me, please do not water the seed of violence in me. Please water the seed of compassion in me. I promise to do the same for you.'
"You can honor this commitment in many ways. You can avoid situations that make you angry or create conflict with others. For instance, when you read a magazine (or turn on the TV) you may encounter ideas and images that water the seeds of hatred and fear in you. Or while you are conversing with someone, the discussion may make you upset and you may feel anger rise up in you. During these moments, your practice is to become aware that the inner seeds of anger, fear, and hatred are being watered and that these emotions can lead to violence in your thinking, in your speech, and in your actions. Please put away any reading material that does not nurture love and understanding. Please avoid taking part in conversations that water negative seeds in you. Let your beloved ones know how they can support you in preventing irritation and anger from growing in you.
"In a similar way, you can support your beloved ones in the practice of peace. When they share with you what makes them sad, angry, or depressed, take note, and with kindness act in their best interests. Try to avoid doing or saying things that you know will water the seeds of conflict within them. This is a concrete, intelligent way to practice peace.
"Many young people alive today have not endured the great pain of war. They do not remember the horrors brought about by mass violence. We must help our children awaken to the fact that they have within themselves the capacity for violence and war as well as the capacity for caring and loving-kindness. With mindfulness, we must also teach our children concrete practices that nourish the positive seeds within them and avoid strengthening the negative seeds of anger, craving, and fear. We should begin this learning process when our children are young so that as they grow they have the strength and skill to be calm and to act nonviolently and insightfully.
"Before he died, the Buddha instructed his disciples, 'Be a lamp unto yourself.' In this way, he urges each of us to light the lamp of mindfulness in our own hearts. My dear friends, let us practice energetically so that we may light the way of peace for our beloved ones, for our society, and for future generations."
Thich Nhat Hanh (tick not hawn/rhymes with fawn) is a world-renowned writer, scholar, spiritual leader, and Zen Buddhist monk. He lives in the monastic communities he founded in France, Vermont, and California, and his lineage is traceable directly to the Buddha himself. He has written many important books and he conducts public workshops throughout the world and peace-making retreats with Vietnam veterans, Palestinians, and Israelis. I have been in his presence three times, once for A Day of Mindfulness, including a walking meditation with him, and twice for talks. His interpretation of the Buddha's teachings, Engaged Buddhism, are deeply relevant and useful in today's world.
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