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When the Mind Is at Peace

When we experience the world, we often do so through the traditions that have been passed down to us. Those traditions colour the world in a particular way that is hard to shake. Culture and its traditions are not easily overcome without questioning how we perceive the world.

Marcel Proust suggested to overcome the cultural biases we each have was to see the world through new eyes rather to seek new landscapes. This idea is shared by others in various ways. Shunryu Suzuki described the beginner’s mind, which involves an attitude of openness. As we study a subect, we seek to explore it as child might rather than limiting ourselves to a single “expert” view of the subject.

Layman P’ang’s proposes peace in the world is a result of having peace of mind. In this way, we are ordinary people exploring the world not through pre-conceived ways of knowing, but always emerging and fresh understandings. We remain open and question what we think is real.

When the mind is at peace,
the world too is at peace.
Nothing real, nothing absent.
Not holding on to reality,
not getting stuck in the void,
you are neither holy nor wise, just
an ordinary fellow who has completed his work.

Planting Chant

Both sides of our family descend from farmers. Farmers and indigenous people have affection for the land and its properties. They share the land with their sentient and non-sentient neighbours and step gently leaving a footprint that can be wiped away.

The Osage celebrated planting crops with the following chant. As I read the chant, I understood that planting belongs in all seasons. When humans plant and harvest in sustainable ways, we prosper, laughter fills homes, and we leave a small footprint.

Thich Nhat Hanh proposed humans “walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the Earth. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” When we walk on the Earth in this way and leave an imprint as a kiss, we act as stewards for future generations. When we live in harmony with nature, we form a sacred covenant with nature and future geneations.

I made a footprint: it is sacred.
I made a footprint: small green specks push through it.
I made a footprint: new green blades push upward.
I made a footprint: above it, blades wave in the breeze.
I made a footprint: over it grow new stalks.
I made a footprint: above it the blossoms lie gray.
I made a footprint: smoke rises from my house.
I made a footprint: there is laughter in my house.
I made a footprint: my family lives in good health.

Love’s Exquisite Freedom

When we love others, things, and places, there is freedom that comes with the constraints that love places on us. Maya Angelou provides a rich, poetic description of how love arrives and frees us.

Love arrives with histories and memories of pleasure and pain. Thomas Merton advised that we call it falling in love, because there are times it can hurt. Despite the possibility of pain, love calls us in ways that give us courage to overcome the risk and we are free to choose love. There is something in that person, that thing, and that place that call and hold us in that relationship.

Wendell Berry writes about affection for people, places, and living. It takes courage to step out and say, “I love this person, this place, and this way of living.” In saying that, what if the other rejects me or their love or that love is taken from me?

We, unaccustomed to courage

exiles from delight

live coiled in shells of loneliness

until love leaves its high holy temple

and comes into our sight

to liberate us into life.

Love arrives

and in its train come ecstasies

old memories of pleasure

ancient histories of pain.

Yet if we are bold,

love strikes away the chains of fear

from our souls.

We are weaned from our timidity

In the flush of love’s light

we dare be brave

And suddenly we see

that love costs all we are

and will ever be.

Yet it is only love

which sets us free.


This Is What Was Bequeathed Us

As I read this poem, I recalled: “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Embedded in the quote is: How do we care for shared places and its inhabitants so that others who follow us can enjoy Creation?

Stewardship, in all its forms, calls on us to act in ethical and considerate ways. This does not mean we cease harvesting, but we do in ways that do so in responsible ways. We return as much as we take and show our gratitude for the harvest.

Gregory Orr reminds us the Earth is a gift the beloved left. Someone left it to us and our response would be to give it to those who follow us as a sacred gift. Here, we find meaning, we live together, and we discover ways to sustain our living together. We do so when we are mindful and attentive towards others who are with us and follow. We do so when we are mindful and attentive to the Earth. A beloved bequeathed this to us and it is now our turn.

This is what was bequeathed us:

This earth the beloved left

And, leaving,

Left to us.

No other world

But this one:

Willows and the river

And the factory

With its black smokestacks.

No other shore, only this bank

On which the living gather.

No meaning but what we find here.

No purpose but what we make.

That, and the beloved’s clear instructions:

Turn me into song; sing me awake.

From the Rivers to the Sea

Sarah Tremlett provides a meditative quality in this poem. When I read the poem, it reminded me of Lao Tzu‘s quote that “all rivers flow to the sea, because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.”

Poetry calls us to meditate, but not to know a single meaning. Instead, it calls us to explore transforming meaning, accepting humility and understanding that we cannot know something completely.

When rivers reach the sea, it adds depth to them and room to explore them more fully. Seas do not have fixed and rigid boundaries. The boundaries remain fluid and permeable. What can humans learn from this? Perhaps, it is that we are all one and the boundaries we think exist are fluid, allowing us to move more easily in the world with each other.

Time reveals that to

execute means to begin

and to terminate

So all the rivers

in each and every country

flow into one sea


Traveling at Home

Wendell Berry advises we do not experience the same route twice even in a country we know by heart. I wonder if we can know a country by heart? The chances change and make a new way.

We used to whitewater raft when the boys were younger. The mountain-fed river changed by the minute in June with the heat of the day and increased flow with melting snow. The rocks revealed themselves differently at various times of the day. In the morning, the river was lower and we could see the rocks, but with more water they became submerged. With time and experience, we could sense the differences in the river. Our vision was no longer the only way to know the river.

Heraclitus‘ quote about never stepping in the same river twice because it is changing complements the part about the person changing. We experience the world, its inhabitants, and ourselves as continuously changing. This calls us to be mindful and attentive to the living and the relationships we experience, seen and unseen.

Even in a country you know by heart
it’s hard to go the same way twice.
The life of the going changes.
The chances change and make a new way.
Any tree or stone or bird
can be the bud of a new direction. The
natural correction is to make intent
of accident. To get back before dark
is the art of going.

I Opened a Book

Julia Donaldson reminds us that reading is potentially a mindful activity. We lose ourselves in the as we stride into the book, mixing magical elixirs, and making new friends with whom we share the journey.

For me, Paulo Coehlo is an author that I lose myself in his novels. There is something magical about them and his most famous book is aptly named The Alchemist. I recall the first time I read the book losing myself in it and not being able to put it down.

When we finish the book and we have been mindful in reading it, it stays with us and becomes part of us. I used quotes from The Alchemist in writing as it had left such an imprint on me.

I opened a book and in I strode.
Now nobody can find me.
I’ve left my chair, my house, my road,
My town and my world behind me.

I’m wearing the cloak, I’ve slipped on the ring,
I’ve swallowed the magic potion.
I’ve fought with a dragon, dined with a king
And dived in a bottomless ocean.

I opened a book and made some friends.
I shared their tears and laughter
And followed their road with its bumps and bends
To the happily ever after.

I finished my book and out I came.
The cloak can no longer hide me.
My chair and my house are just the same,
But I have a book inside me.

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