When the Air Sings to Us: What Makes a Good Relationship?

It’s truly a spring day and a beautiful morning. For once, the sky is clear, and the quality of sunlight is so alive. I love the early morning light even though I rarely get up to see it or hear it. There’s a hum in the air.

 

Early, for me nowadays, means 8:00 or 9:00 am, not 6:00. And the birds. Amazing. Right now, a male cardinal is singing. They sing love songs to their mate or hopeful mate. And we, lucky humans, get to hear it⎼ if we’re quiet enough, or our neighbors are. Imagine one creature making love to another with its voice and we get to listen in.

 

What is it in the song, what quality attracts one bird to another? Biologists often talk about ‘fitness,’ but I think that’s bunk. What does ‘fittest’ mean in terms of a bird song?  I’m not an ornithologist but I don’t think a female cardinal picks the gruffest or toughest sounding male. Being gruff, at least in a human, limits the vocal range.

 

Even Darwin, who is often misquoted as saying or implying it is aggression or a “selfish gene” that makes beings fittest, actually spoke in his book The Descent of Man only twice about survival of the fittest. Of course, we humans can be selfish. We’d have to be blind not to see it. But many of us act like we are helpless before our selfish impulses and blind to other aspects of ourselves, aspects that Darwin named as essential to our survival.

 

Systems scientist David Loye pointed out in his research on Darwin’s Lost Theory of Love: A Healing Vision for the New Century, that Darwin included 24 entries on the importance of mutual aid, 24 on reason and imagination, 61 on sympathy, 90 on a moral sense, and 95 on love.

 

Especially since cardinals mate for life, and males feed the females both before and after she lays her eggs, wouldn’t ‘fitness’ in a voice be its beauty, its subtle and yet lingering notes? Wouldn’t it be the ability of a vocal vibration to make a listener feel warm inside, safe?

 

Imagine we let ourselves feel loved by the world around us. So much would change, I think. Maybe fewer of us would have a cavalier attitude toward nature and treat it as mere “equipment” to exploit for our own immediate purposes. We’d feel the life around us more intimately. Maybe we’d feel more valued and loved ourselves. More powerful, alive, engaged. We’d feel everything speaking to us. Not just birds but trees, rivers, clouds, the air we breathe, the other people around us.

 

We’d feel the streams of the earth as the veins of our body. The air as the fuel that animates us….

 

**To read this whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Becoming Warriors of Presence

William Butler Yeats wrote over a century ago, in the wake of the First World War,

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…

 

We easily feel this today. One minute, I look outside my house and see an apple tree greening with spring and hear a raven’s raucous call. The next a car horn. Then, faintly, an NPR report of a bombed Mariupol, and of a GOP Congresswoman repeating Russian disinformation.

 

Which way does my mind turn? Do I relax into the calm beauty the tree and natural universe provides in this moment? Or do I get ready to battle those aiming to rip the constitutional rights and protections from my limbs and claim them all for themselves? Or who threaten to deny us the very air we need to breathe because we are not able or willing to pay their price?

 

How do we know what future will be revealed? We don’t. But we know the price we’ll pay for doing nothing is unpayable.

 

We all want an enjoyable life. One that satisfies. Maybe one with meaning. That makes the world a little better. But when the natural world itself or the sustainability of the climate is threatened⎼ and the human world is degrading so fast it’s impossible to have any idea what will happen tomorrow or if anything caring, humane, and democratic will be left for us⎼ how do we not burn out or give up? How do we live day to day without degenerating into a blubbering mass, knowing we must act but not knowing what it is we can do?

 

David Loy, Buddhist philosopher, eco-activist and author gave a talk on Friday, April 29th. He spoke about a fellow Buddhist, from Boulder, CO, Wynn Bruce, who had immolated himself on the Supreme Court steps on Earth Day, one week earlier. Wynn’s father said he did it out of concern for our world and the lack of determined action by our political system to save it.

 

Loy quoted philosopher Noam Chomsky saying, “the world is at the most dangerous moment in human history.” How do we face this? Wynn Bruce acted. But his act was so painful and terrifying. Not the most skillful of actions to take, said Loy. But Wynn’s concern, his fear is in all of us who look and see the climate emergency that is occurring.

 

Loy went on to share author, eco-activist Joanna Macy’s piece on the Tibetan legend of a Shambhala Warrior. “There comes a time,” she recounts, “when all lives on earth are in danger.” Barbarian powers use unfathomable technologies to lay waste the world. To remove these weapons, the warriors must show great moral and physical courage, and go forth to the very heart of barbarian power. (Putin? The GOP who plotted Jan 6?)

 

But since the weapons are made by mind, the way to fight them involves mind. Our strongest weapons, she says, are compassion and insight, heart, and knowledge.

 

It seems right now that we can’t look, and we can’t look away. But maybe we’ve got it wrong. Maybe we’re asking the wrong questions….

 

**To read the whole article, go to The Good Men Project.

 

A Crazy Dream: When We Teeter on the Edge Between Depression and Hopefulness

I am dreaming that what seemed impossible yesterday will be possible tomorrow. Or as Anne Applebaum put it in her recent article in the Atlantic, the Impossible Suddenly Became Possible. People are waking up to the fact that war can still happen, yet we can and we must not only save Ukraine but save and expand democracy.

 

On February 28, Ali Velshi, substituting for Joy Reid on the MSNBC program the ReidOut, discussed results unexpected by Putin, and maybe by many of us. He didn’t expect President Zelensky of Ukraine to be such a determined, inspiring leader. He didn’t expect so many Ukrainian civilians to take up arms. Didn’t expect university students, bartenders, common citizens to make Molotov cocktails in their classrooms, bars and homes. He didn’t expect ordinary Ukrainians to sit down in front of tanks. He didn’t expect thousands to protest in Russian cities, and cities throughout the world. He didn’t expect former Soviet satellite states like Belarus, or Hungary, to refuse to send troops or support him, but instead to speak out against him. To help isolate him.

 

He didn’t expect Russian troops to surrender their arms and admit to reporters they were told they were being sent on maneuvers or a peacekeeping mission, not being asked to kill fellow Balkans. He didn’t see NATO coming together after his protégé, DJT, did all he could to undermine or destroy US alliances with other democracies.

 

All through the world, as well as here in the U. S., people who want to live in a democracy, who were shocked by DJT, GOP attacks on voting rights, white nationalist violence, COVID, global warming, economic insecurity into being afraid or hopeless saw what we dreaded most played out. Putin made them see, made us see, what we could lose. Made us see what might happen if we did not act. If we got so caught up in ourselves that we forgot that we share this world, this suffering, this love of life with others, billions of others. We realized if we hadn’t already done so⎼ we cannot allow the forces of autocracy to be emboldened any further.

 

In-between the perception that something is wrong, and the action taken to stop it is a gigantic space, and an opportunity we all have, to find our communion with others. To find our power. To find the way that we, the unique people that we are, to act, to help, to speak. Seeing what the Ukrainians are facing and doing can inspire us to act. But will we act?

 

Yet, as Dana Milbank put it in a Washington Post article, Republicans are so eager to see Biden fail, so eager to undermine democracy, they act in ways that help Putin succeed. Act in ways that threaten not only Ukrainians, and other Europeans, but us. Here, in the U. S. They are supporting an autocratic ruler who is causing an unknown number of deaths and, so far, almost one million refugees with the goal of destroying a nation’s freedom and way of life.

 

There is the popular expression about using a carrot or a stick to get people to learn, or to act ⎼ using praise or blame, prizes or threats, inspiration or fear. Due to the awful conditions we face right now and might face later, from COVID, climate change, white nationalists, and Putin⎼ this is the stick. We can see what we fear happening here or everywhere. But there’s also the carrot, the opportunity, the prize. But this prize is not something someone else gives us but one we give ourselves. We get stronger. We get closer to others. More compassionate. We build a better society.

 

Because of Putin we might be shocked into action. Because of the Ukrainian people, we might be inspired.

 

As Heather Cox Richardson put it, “…Ukrainian resistance to Russian president Vladimir Putin, supported by the cooperation of the U.S. and European allies and partners in strangling Russia’s economic system, was forging a global alliance against the authoritarianism that has been growing in power around the world.” It’s time to join that resistance. To speak out in support of, to send aid, money, supplies to Ukraine.

 

As I fear what the Ukrainian people are facing, and teeter on an edge between depression and hopefulness, it is beginning to seem more possible that we can build a resistance and maybe create a better world for us to live in. We can build or actualize a love for this world. I hope I’m not just dreaming.

 

 

**Many people and organizations are working to aid the people of Ukraine and stop not only Putin but international and American forces of autocracy. One list of organizations to support is provided by Timothy Snyder, historian, and author of On Tyranny. You can also read his newsletter on Ukraine. Charity Navigator is another resource.

 

***This article was syndicated by The Good Men Project. Please go to this link.

 

War: Only If We Care Will We Listen. Only If We Listen Will We Hear.

At 10:30 pm EST on Wednesday night tv programs were interrupted for a special report no one wanted to hear. War.

 

I’m sitting here, like millions of people, horrified. Watching a nightmare unfold on tv. Americans, Europeans, people all over the world, but especially Ukranians, who were being awakened at 5:30 am to the sound of bombing, too shocked, too frightened to speak.

 

I was watching NBC and at one point the reporters, I think it was Tom Llamas and Erin McLaughlin, just stopped and let us see the city of Kyiv, at night. We saw in the forefront a beautiful cathedral, a beautiful city lit up behind it. And we heard a moment of silence interrupted by explosions in the distance. The silence of the reporters was like a prayer for the lives of these people. And maybe for all of us. A last look at a beautiful city threatened by an enormous cloud of violence and malignancy.

 

And I thought, what will this city look like tomorrow? The reporters told us about bombs, missiles, and the threat of infantry. And all of this preceded by cyber-attacks, disinformation, all combining to interrupt the connection between the government and its people; the government and its military forces. To isolate in fear. Russian agents going through the streets looking for Ukrainian leaders or people of influence. To arrest? Murder?

 

This is now. But we’ve seen it coming, although almost all of us prayed in our own ways that it wouldn’t happen. Putin has been building up to this in Ukraine for months and years. And in the U. S. we’ve seen forces of autocracy, oppression, malignant greed, narcissism, ignorance attacking democracy and decency at the root. Attacking education. Attacking unions. Attacking a free press and the very concept that a news organization should aim at truth. Attacking authentic political speech and protests. Attacking diversity of thought. Gender, race, religious freedom. And many on the right, in the GOP are supporting Putin. Supporting Russia and war.

 

And cyber-attacks are happening here, in the US, too. Led by agents from Russia and other nations. Other autocrats. Not only in the 2016 election but since then.

 

Attacking democracy is not an abstract attack just on a political system. Democracy means everyone has a voice, which means everyone has rights and a bit of power, responsibility, and value. Just for being alive. Democracy is attacked so only certain people will have power, will have rights, will have value just for being human, alive. Attacking democracy is happening so one small group, less than 1% of the population, can steal the wealth of the many to give it to the few. Democracy is attacked so one group can turn other groups from fellow humans to items with value only for what they can contribute to the one small group in power.

 

What we’re seeing played out in front of us in Ukraine, the U. S. and elsewhere is the Shock Doctrine actualized. Behind recent threats to democracy, internet security, etc. is the threat of chaos. Loss. Shock. De-stabilizing society so even those not threatened by direct violence from Putin will feel threatened. We will feel threatened also by those who were on the streets of Charlottesville and elsewhere. Or from increasing gun violence, while that violence is indirectly protected by those who claim to only want to protect their right to own guns. (In 2020, according to the Pew Research Center, more people died from gun violence than any other  prior year. The violence continues to increase today.) Many in the GOP and those who support them seem to want us so afraid, so on edge, we will accept the unacceptable. But we won’t.

 

I can relate to people, now, who want a gun to protect themselves, their family. Their rights. I want to protect myself, my family. My rights. But there are more important and proficient ways to arm ourselves. It is more important to make ourselves strong inwardly so what we do outwardly makes the situation better, not worse.

 

When we feel so strongly the horror being inflicted on others, and fear so strongly who might be next, it is our responsibility to make our hearts open and our minds as clear as we can. The situation is so traumatic that to let our minds digest information and think critically we need to be kind to ourselves. Empathic.

 

We need to be as literate about the media as possible. And question what we hear as we search for the truth amongst all the lies and distortions. Who is giving us this information? What is the source? What is the bias or perspective? Is it from someone expert in the field? Is it firsthand, second hand? Is it backed by a reputable agency or university source?

 

And how do we listen? Do we recognize the source as another human being, as fragile and tender as we are? And as we listen to reporters, pundits, neighbors, do we listen to ourselves? Do we hear the thoughts in our mind or hear sounds outside our room or home as part of the music of our life?

 

Do we feel the sensations in our body? Our breath? Can we feel ourselves as one of all the selves in this world? Can we feel ourselves in community with those in Ukraine? Can we take on minor burdens to help those facing the worst of burdens? Can we send *support to Ukraine in any way we can? Can we help those physically fighting autocracy by opposing autocracy here?

 

Only if we care will we listen. Only if we listen can we hear. When the world is threatened and our hearts are afraid, that is the most important time to pause and listen. That is a moment we can make a difference.

 

*To send support to Ukraine, one resource is Charity Navigator.

**This article was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

Visual Art as the Entranceway to the Ancient Caves of Humanity: Alone, Yet in the Embrace of Everything

Since the pandemic began, I’ve had this impulse to look at, or hang on the walls of my home, new pieces of art. Sometimes, they’re pages from an old book or museum calendar or one I created myself; sometimes, a piece from a dealer or a work by someone I love. I take a walk every day, look at whatever seems beautiful, trees, roads, hills, brooks, buildings, animals, and people. And with art this sense of beauty can come inside with me.

 

And there’s something more. Something about aging, relationships, and life itself, or life in a time of great crisis, that eludes understanding yet is motivating this impulse.

 

I’ve written about art before. So have thousands of others. Art is one blessing we can all share. No matter how hard we look at, think, or feel about an artwork, it keeps on evoking something new⎼ or it can. One look, one realization sets the stage for the next.

 

There is an infinite depth to any perception, as any perception takes place in and is influenced by an infinite number of factors, or by the universe itself. It is this infinite depth that art can access. So the English poet William Blake, in his poem Auguries of Innocence, wrote the famous lines: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wildflower.”

 

I look at this woodblock print by the Japanese artist Kawase Hasui which hangs on the wall of my bedroom. It is called The Inokashira Benten Shrine in Snow. I love this piece. It is so detailed. It depicts a snowstorm over an old Buddhist Shrine that sits next to a pond that over a hundred years ago stood at the head of the source of Edo’s (now Tokyo’s) drinking water. Each snowflake stands individually by itself, and then floats into the whole. I feel as if I could enter the scene, become another detail in it, or feel the artist as he painted it.

 

Maybe each artwork is a door to a hidden place in ourselves, or the universe, or the artist’s vision. Like C. S. Lewis’ wardrobe doorway to Narnia. Or a window; just like a painting might be framed, a window frames the world for us to view with care and attention. And I feel that if I can mount such windows and doors on my walls, I will never be lonely or bored. An adventure will always be available to me. One minute, the world might be tired or threatening. The next, it shines brightly.

 

Years ago, I bought a piece of Buddhist art, a slice of shale with a Buddha painted on it. It is a reproduction of a painting from a cave in Southeast Asia. When I slow down and let my eyes linger on it alone, focusing on the whole piece; then a detail; then back again, the scene expands, taking on dimensionality. I feel what I see. The Buddha stands there for a moment in 3-d.

 

Art was probably created just for this sort of purpose. When we let go of our focus on ourselves for a moment, our plans, concerns, and beliefs, art can help us see the world in more dimensions. That’s why, throughout the centuries, it was closely tied to religion and spirit. One of the greatest visual works of art ever was The Creation of Man (Human) painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, by Michelangelo….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

 

**Photo is from the cave created by students in our school.

Difficult Conversations, And Crossing the Divide

Question:  Being an ally is important to me, but an obviously important piece of what that means is having difficult conversations with people who either believe that allyship is unnecessary or worse, some kind of liberal conspiracy.  I want to have better tools for dealing with people who are fact-resistant and believe the false stories in the right-wing media.  When I present multiple sources that contradict the lies they have heard, I feel like we end up on a merry-go-round in the he said/she said tradition where nobody learns anything and we both end up frustrated.  What can I be doing better?

 

Oh, yes. This dilemma is so familiar. It is so important that those of us who are white allies try to have those difficult conversations with the fact-resistant people that you refer to, about racism and other intersectional issues. And with those who might agree with us about the facts but can’t get motivated to act.

 

As you said, it has become increasingly frustrating, and I can’t claim much success. We can all think we know what’s right, so changing someone’s mind about anything important can be brutal, if not impossible. Simply mentioning certain issues can lead to anger or anxiety. Just presenting reliable evidence or showing how their evidence is contradictory or comes from unreliable sources doesn’t usually work. Our nation is on edge, suffering not only from what filmmaker Ken Burns called the three pandemics, COVID, white nationalism, and misinformation, but a climate emergency, so the tension we feel makes what’s difficult even more so.

 

In the political situation we are in today, the strongest wall the right-wing leaders have built is clearly not at our southern border, but down almost the middle of this nation. This wall was very deliberately constructed. Making conversations difficult is one way that differing viewpoints are turned into a wall.

 

When I taught a class on debate, I did research on persuasion.  A key point is to first get your foot in the door. Get any point of acceptance, of something we share or agree about. Say ‘yes’ and hopefully they will do the same. Establish a relationship so we are no longer on the other side of a door, or wall.

 

When disinformation is mistaken for truth, and truth becomes indistinguishable from belief, anyone who doesn’t reside on our side of the border on an issue is perceived as an enemy. And one of the main components of that wall is racism. So maybe the best thing to expect from ourselves is speaking to that reality as clearly as we can.

 

George Lakoff, in his books The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant, Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, and Your Brain’s Politics: How the Science of Mind Explains the Political Divide, provides clear, explicit methods for doing this. First, listen for the person’s values and speak to them. Don’t just negate or argue with the other person’s claims. Then, re-phrase or reframe the issue. And once that reframe is accepted in the conversation, our point of view can follow naturally from it, as common sense. Don’t be a patsy to their way of framing or misrepresenting the world. Use frames we really think are true based on values we hold. And recognize who might be more inclined to listen to us….

 

**To read the whole post, go to the Ask An Ally column of the Good Men Project.

Art, Cats, Windows, and Doorways: The Opening that We Are

Last weekend, my wife and I went to a local museum, The Johnson Art Museum at Cornell University. After almost two years of COVID, going to a museum was something new and original.  We were fully masked, and socially distant from other people, but not from the art. The art was not infected, although we were cautioned not to touch it, for reasons other than medical. It was so freeing to let ourselves go, and mentally and emotionally step into the painting or the prints or the photos or whatever.

 

A museum is not a collection of static things. Maybe someone could look at the pieces collected there and think, this is just a colorful piece of cloth or paper, an image, or a photo. But most seemed to stop and feel.

 

Each artwork is the result of an intensely lived moment, day, year, or lifetime. Just consider the inspiration, skill, sweat, emotions, memories ⎼ the living that goes into the art. The artist’s joy, insight, pain, and suffering. The intense focus. So, one way to experience the art is as a sharing or opportunity. A question or invitation. “Will you take this from my hands? Will you be here with me? Can you help? Can you leap into this moment?”

 

The possibilities in art are endless. One exhibit at the museum was called Women Making Their Mark. It included an amazing book of papercuts titled Freedom, a Fable, by Kara Walker telling of a black woman’s emancipation from slavery only to realize the oppression continues.

 

In the exhibit on Art and Environmental Struggle there was a painting by Abel Rodriguez called El Arbol de La Vida y Abundancia, a beautiful proclamation of the interwoven and interdependent human, plant and animal world.

 

There was also a piece called We Dreamt Deaf, by Nicholas Galanin. This is a taxidermed standing polar bear transmogrified into a rug, a very disturbing version of a hunter’s trophy. I don’t have accurate enough words to express how I felt. The horrors we humans can inflict on others. The pain. And the grief for our world, the tears and anger the art can invoke.

 

And on the top floor of the museum, there are giant windows facing north, west, and south, revealing the lake, hills, and valleys of the area. And in between those windows, a different exhibit, of Japanese, Tibetan, Chinese, Indian, and Persian art, mostly art of spiritual enlightenment. And out the windows, two hawks were gliding above the trees….

 

**Please go to The Good Men Project to read the whole piece.

Love and Compassion Are the Other Faces of Beauty

I look out the window of our den and notice the standing Buddha in the garden has a hat of moss, of both a light and dark green with a lighter tone on the right side of his nose. He also has a shawl of moss over his robes. Does it keep him warm? His smile is so calming and clear it draws me in. Then he seems to dance, or is it breathe, or maybe the whole scene is breathing as my eyes dance over him.

 

My breath and his are after all the same breath.

 

He looks so beautiful to me. Is this what beauty is, a quality of me or a way of relating to something or someone else, a quality of focus, attention, or breathing? A drawing in. And can everything in this scene or anything anywhere that draws us in be touched like this? There is a large stone behind him ⎼ rust, grey, green, and shaped like a mountain. It also looks beautiful. What about the bush, the tree, the flowers, the weeds? In the right light, the Buddha looks bigger than a mountain. But why does he draw us in?

 

We say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Maybe it’s this quality of attention of the beholder in the specific moment. Right now, is beautiful. I had a plan for this morning, but the Buddha took it over. Or maybe beauty did that.

 

Buddhism and other traditions say the separation we often feel between ourselves and others, between us the seer and what we see, is an illusion. But what does that mean? Can we feel as if we were the statue breathing? Is that possible? And who wants to be a statue? Instead, maybe it means that we live each inch of space occupied by mind.

 

We see something and think that statue, that person, that dragonfly or flower or car is over there, and I am here. But what about the air an inch from my face? Or the pavement I am standing on? What about the suffering we see over there or the injustice? The thing or person next to me is next to me all the way to whatever. Why separate the me here from the you there, the eyes from the eyed? Why forget all that is there between us linking us? Don’t we live the world we breathe in?

 

Maybe we separate because there’s hurt here or there, and over and over we re-build a wall to shield us from the pain. We all have hurts. But the wall can be more like a suit of armor we wear wherever we go. And everything we try to touch has the wall, the metal suit, standing in the way. All we ever touch is the inside surface of our armor and so we feel that just on the other side and way too close, a battle is raging.

 

Gently, consciously, we can find a safe way to name what we feel, or find a place of comfort inside as well as outside ourselves. By doing this gently, mindfully, our mind becomes gentler, and we perceive more consciously, and clearly.

 

Constantly, we are switching perspectives back and forth….

 

**To read the whole article, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

 

When Joy Is Hidden in the Very Air We Breathe

Have you ever had this feeling that right outside the bedroom window, on the other side of a surface you’ve touched, like the bedsheet, or a stone in the garden⎼ like a voice carried in the wind that you can’t quite make out, there is an insight, a joy waiting, hidden right there? And all you had to do is breathe a little more deeply, shift your perspective a hairsbreadth, and you’d see it in whatever is felt, hear it in whatever is touched?

 

This isn’t a hope you have but something else.

 

I feel this almost every morning when I wake up, if I don’t rush off or I’m not too angry or depressed by the pandemic or the GOP. Right behind my last dream, sitting next to the stiffness in my back, there is this sense, this urge or yearning to look deeply at the red bee balm in the garden, the yellow daylilies, the cats that lie near my feet.

 

When I took a walk yesterday, I tried to remember a time in my life when something hidden was suddenly revealed, or a work of art created itself with my hands. Something dramatic, that I hadn’t already shared with people; but nothing came to me. At first.

 

There are many examples provided by famous visual artists, athletes, poets, and composers. Zen teacher David Loy provides many in his book The World Is Made of Stories. He quotes the artist Escher talking about his drawing taking on a life of its own. The composer Stravinsky hearing music compose itself; he didn’t do it. The writer Borges saying, “I don’t write what I want… I don’t choose my subjects or plots. I have to stand back and receive them in a passive moment.” The poet Blake talking about poems coming to him almost against his will.

 

I am retired now, but the memory of my years teaching soon came to mind. Many times in the classroom the right way to reach a student or right answer to a question just appeared, flowed from my mouth spontaneously, unplanned. Painfully, not all the time.

 

Too many times, especially when I was inexperienced, the right response to a student often eluded me. But over the last few years of working, the number of wonderful moments were multiplied, when I was well prepared yet open, trusting the students and trusting myself. I also practiced mindfulness regularly in some classes.

 

As I was walking back home, down the steep rural hill, suddenly through the trees there was a view that went on for miles. It was only a peek, a break in the trees visible for a few steps when the road turned just right. I stared for a moment, absorbed, gleeful.

 

And a thought popped into my head. The reason I might touch a surface and a new reality whisper to me was because that is exactly what happens sometimes. We touch the hand of a lover and suddenly there aren’t two separate people anymore. There is only the touch. We quiet our minds, even though our hearts might be jumping wildly, and a new reality is born. We touch and are touched simultaneously, love and are loved….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to the Good Men Project, which published it.

Stories of Crows and People

If We Knew How We Dug Holes in the World, Maybe We Wouldn’t Fall in So Often.

 

 

Two crows come to feed in the yard where my wife scatters food. They sometimes seem to be living metaphors or myths, so black, as they sit on a limb, they’re a hole in the canvas of the sky.

 

Instead of getting domesticated and rushing to the area when she feeds them, the crows come to the yard at unpredictable times, remain independent and constantly alert to us, not quite trusting. Even from inside the house, taking a photo of them is impossible. They know where we are. They are too smart to drop their guard for a payoff of a few seeds.

 

Maybe they don’t want us to observe them too closely, or they refuse to be captured even in a photographic image. Maybe they are just shy. Or maybe they know exactly the dual nature of human beings, how compassionate and yet dangerous we can be.

 

When they spot us inside the house with a camera, they quickly fly off, a mocking tone in their voice, “Not this time.”

 

These crows reflect back to us different shapes of ourselves, show us who is doing the watching as well as what is being observed. Anything can do this service for us, be a crow in this regard. The rain, the wind, thoughts and memories⎼ all crows and mirrors. Maybe we are the black hole. And if we recognize this, we can more easily step through the mirror, Alice Through the Looking Glass, not into Wonderland, but into what’s real in our perceptions. If we know how we dig holes in the world, maybe we won’t fall in so often.

 

In 1970 I was living in New York City. But despite having, at times, three jobs, I had no idea how to make a living. Every job threatened to demolish whatever understanding I had of myself.

 

One day, I was standing towards the front of the old Eighth Street Bookstore in the Village, in the psychology section. In the back were two older people, a man and a woman, dressed in clothes elegantly dark with age and possibly homelessness. The woman seemed almost regal, certainly dignified, the man more like a retired professor, his clothes not as rich and old as hers but equally distinctive. They were holding books in their hands while talking spiritedly. I moved closer, wanting to hear what they were saying. They were in the philosophy section discussing the French existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre. Their accents were Germanic.

 

Over the next few months, I ran into one or both members of this friendship at least three times. I don’t know if I should use the word ‘couple.’ One day, on 7th Avenue, she was alone, with a bowl in her hand, asking people for money. I was surprised to see her. If anyone tried to pretend she wasn’t there, or anyone obviously rich, she’d follow and berate them about how capitalism turns people blind. The third time I saw one or both of them was uptown at a lecture on Thoreau….

 

To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project, where it was first published.