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Inviting Silence

Until yesterday, I had not heard of Gunilla Norris and her poetry. Parker Palmer sent a Facebook message with this beautiful poem embedded. It is a long poem, but is worth whiling and lingering over. Parker Palmer writes about the need for silence in life. This allows us turn inward and listen as our soul speaks to us.

As I move forward in the dissertation process, several things stood out in this poem. Sharing silence as a political act reminded me of how the polis consists of persons where exchanging anything suggests we act politically. In the early writing stages, I argue that teaching is a series of ongoing political actions as we choose the way we teach and what we teach.

Thich Nhat Hanh suggested we find the extraordinary in the ordinary. It is in the lives of each person that the extraordinary potentially emerges. It is in a thoughtful pedagogy that this can emerge in our self, our children, and their children. It is Sabbath’s silence we find space.

Within each of us there is a silence

–a silence as vast as a universe.

We are afraid of it…and we long for it.

When we experience that silence, we remember

who we are: creatures of the stars, created

from the cooling of this plant, created

from dust and gas, created

from the elements, created

from time and space…created

from silence.

The experience of silence is now so rare

that we must cultivate it and treasure it.

That is especially true for shared silence.

Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.

When we can stand aside from the usual and

perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.

Our lives align with deeper values

and the lives of others are touched and influenced.

Silence brings us to back to basics, to our senses,

to our selves. It locates us. Without that return

we can go so far away from our true natures

that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.

We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.

We endanger the delicate balance which sustains

our lives, our communities, and our planet.

Each of can make a difference.

Politicians and visionaries will not return us

to the sacredness of life.

That will be done by ordinary men and women

who together or alone can say,

“Remember to breathe, remember to feel,

remember to care,

let us do this for our children and ourselves

and our children’s children.

Let us practice for life’s sake.”

A Noiseless, Patient Spider

When I looked for a poem to post, I found this Walt Whitman verse. It reminded me of the writing of Mary Oliver, Parker Palmer, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others who write about the quietness needed for the soul to emerge. It is like to a wild animal, perhaps a spider, which is timid and reluctant to emerge as we crash around. As we sit quietly and listen, it emerges for us to see and listen more closely.

A noiseless, patient spider,
I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood, isolated;
Mark’d how, to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;
Ever unreeling them—ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you, O my Soul, where you stand,
Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing,—seeking the spheres, to connect them;
Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold;
Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my Soul.

Life’s Mystery

I registered for a class which doubles as a retreat. The underlying theme is the Sabbath. I began a journal and will write for the next 6 weeks based on weekly Sabbath practices. For the first week, I chose one which Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about. I chose a common activity, one I do mindlessly. Each time I do it, I breathe three times and complete the task.

I feel rushed this summer as I move from one life phase to another. I felt calmer the last couple of days. I began Sunday, my usual sabbath. When I settle like this, I discover paths to questions, thoughts, and wisdom that are not forthcoming when I am busy. The quiet place is like a deep pool which opens up only when I rests quietly.

A gentle breeze

My breath

Crosses a silent pool.

A sacred space

A simple way

Leads me forth.

Wisdom revealed

Questions emerge

Life’s paths opened.

Be present

Listen mindfully

Embrace life’s mystery fully.

The Truly Great

Spring is near and should arrive in a few days. This March was reminiscent of last March with lots of snow. Last year, we had a tragedy as a young woman died in a car accident during the worst storm. She was an older sibling of former students and, although she was not a parent, she subbed for her mom as a classroom helper. I was apprehensive the first time, but it was an incredible and indelible experience. She made such an impact on the students and left me comfortable with the idea older siblings had much to offer.

Thich Nhat Hanh spoke about when people they leave their mark. When I pay attention, I can recognize this young lady’s greatness in our classroom. Stephen Spender wrote a lovely poem that reminds me of the greatness people leave. I pause and can how “these names fêted” by many of nature’s gifts. I smile having witnessed this greatness.

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light, where the hours are suns,
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit, clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.
What is precious, is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog, the flowering of the spirit.
Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life,
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun, they travelled a short while toward the sun
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

 

Compassion

Thich Nhat Hanh provided this beautiful quote about compassion and embracing who we are in this world. I need to be inside of someone else`s skin to build compassion.

The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves “inside the skin” of the other. We “go inside” their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the subject of our observation. When we are in contact with another’s suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, “to suffer with.”

A Dream of Warriors

I enjoy reading Thich Nhat Hanh. Presently, I am reading Margaret Wheatley’s new book: So Far From Home. Margaret Wheatley brought shared this by the Zen monk. The poem and book are gentle reminders to pause, reorient ourselves in the present, and find strength and courage to continue the journey. It does not end.

The road goes on and we only walk one step at a time, one moment at a time, and each step moves us into an unknown future. It is good to rest and make each step mindful. We live in the present moment, find courage, and discover strength to carry on. It is in this moment, this space, we are at home, because when we are mindful we can nowhere else.

“They were exhausted. They had been traveling longer than they could remember. Their journey had begun with energy and enthusiasm, but that too they could no longer recall. They had lost many companions along the way—some had turned back, some had refused to go on, some had died of weariness. They all had suffered greatly.

They came to a narrow bridge that spanned a great river running swift and fast. On the far shore they could see what they had dreamed of during all these years of hardship—gentle green valleys and peaceful lakes reflecting clear blue sky. They stood there astonished to realize that what they had struggled so long for was suddenly here.

They began walking across the bridge with joyful steps. Midway across, they were stopped by children who had come to meet them. Tears overcame them for their own children left behind long ago. The children began to speak: “You cannot enter our land. You must go back. You will need to repeat your struggles. You must go back and do it all again.

The warriors stood there quietly. They gazed longingly at the pleasant pastures. They beheld the bright faces of the children. Tenderly, they bent down and kissed their cheeks. Then they stood up and spoke: “We are not afraid.” And they went back to begin again their journey.”

Gentle Rain

I wind down the week and head into Sabbath. It is odd to say and write those words, because I have celebrated Sabbath since my arrival at Bainsbridge. When I come to a courage retreat, I enter into a covenant, at least with myself, that I slow down, talk less, and listen more deeply to others and myself. The great thing is this is the norm here. Time is purposely and purposefully set aside to share in small groups, listen and be fully present for each other, reflect in our  corners, and find our way back to the joyful circle of kindred spirits. It is unlike any other conference, workshop, or training I take. The focus is on opening up creative space and that requires different being present. It is a space of vulnerability and solidarity, of coming together to find ourselves coming home.

I meditated this morning and sat inside the main hall. It was raining which I understand is often the case in Seattle at this time of the year.

We sat inside the drum;

A small group

I heard rain overhead

Its song reverent

A gentle tap on the roof

Occasional increases in tempo

More rhythm in that fresh moment.

Perhaps, as gusts of wind shake trees–

Fresh dreams

Break us free from reverie

Together, we embark

Explorers

Perhaps, even pirates.

From golden hearts

Gentle invitations sent

And received.

Whatever, each chooses;

Wherever, each walks;

Remember–

We do it together

Joyously, in community

We carry a little of each other on this journey.

Last year, after the sudden and tragic passing of a young woman we met several years ago, I recounted a Buddhist understanding passed on by Senryu Suzuki and Thich Nhat Hanh. Each person we greet on life’s journey leaves an indelible imprint on us. We only need to stand or sit quietly and listen and like a wind and gentle rain voices are heard again and again in the silence of that moment.

A year ago,  I was in an increasingly  dark place. There was little positive in certain aspects of my life. A question emerged: “What is my lot in life?” I quickly realized I was trying to change things I had little or no control over instead of focusing on what I did control in life, living in the moment and being present. I undertook a journey that began with the question, “Who am I?” I completed a directed studies course on mindfulness focused around the question, “What is there about mindful practice that can help me live a fuller, richer life in each moment?” I read Thomas Merton, Parker Palmer, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others on the subject of mindfulness. I attended spiritual retreats and meditated. I posted an entry entitled Connectivity + Synchronicity = Love. Connecting with me the important first step. Yesterday, the synchronicity continued when this blog posting found is way into my life.

Read what Marie posted. I am still a work in progress, but the ways I have used to date are immensely helpful. Take care.

An Extraordinary World

I am reading a book called The Radical Christian Life by Joan Chittister. A line that stood out was “spend our time well, to contemplate the divine in the human, to treat everything in the world as sacred. We need the wisdom of stewardship.” I recalled the Buddhist concept of the extraordinary explained by Thich Nhat Hanh. A story he recounted was about an oak tree at Plum Village. Attendees stop and literally become tree huggers as they hug that tree and admire its splendour. With small actions, humans move from seeing themselves as part of the world not separate and superior to the world we share with all of Creation. There are things and times I take for granted.

We regularly drive the Yellowhead Highway between Prince George and Edmonton. Recently, I realized it is extraordinary. Each trip we pass Mount Robson. Sometimes it is shrouded in clouds. Other times, it looks like this. It is always spectacular.

We observe wildlife: bear, elk, deer, goats, bald eagle etc. Last summer, I took a picture of two black bear feeding along the side of the road. They seemed quite unaware of my presence.

We took a picture of an Inukshuk in Jasper National Park. An Inukshuk is an Inuit symbol reminding us others were there before or that we are on the right path. It is an excellent reminder of the need to stop, reflect on the world, and take stock of our role in the world. It is an extraordinary place.

I was reminded of the extraordinary nature of the world as I read Malou’s blog entry. She wrote about tulips in Holland. Tulips might seem ordinary to people who see them everyday just like driving through the Rocky Mountains has been to me. When I mindfully, attentively observe the world and become aware of it, its breathtaking beauty is readily revealed.

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