When the World Speaks, Listen: When We Speak, Who Do We Imagine is Listening?

It’s the day after Earth Day. Snow ⎼ big, slow moving white flakes are falling onto red-winged black birds, blue jays, gold finches, robins and cardinals. And the snow weighs down the flowers in the yard breaking some of the stalks ⎼ yellow daffodils, blue squill, lavender crocus, hellebores ⎼ and it buries the new grass.

 

The bird calls grow stronger. Are they telling each other the location of seeds, warning of other birds or animals, or calling for a mate? Or maybe proclaiming “this branch is mine,” or the joy of eating and flying between snowflakes? They probably don’t yearn for any moment other than this one.

 

The trees, apple, cherry, and oak, seem unmoved, unbent by the cold or the snow load or even by the wind.

 

My wife and two of our cats sit with me on the bed inside the second-floor bedroom. The cats, not my wife and I, clean each other. Then they sleep. They wrap themselves so softly around each other, one’s head resting on the other’s belly, you could hardly tell where one ends and the other begins. Even after almost twelve years, I feel amazed by how these semi-wild creatures are so comfortable with each other and want to be with me.

 

And I am amazed, no, in awe maybe, joyous, that my wife is here with me. Despite all the craziness in much of the human world these days, we can create moments like this one. In between caring for our families, concern for the future or for our health, or shortages of supplies, we can sit with our cats, watch the snow fall, and listen for bird calls. We can cuddle, even without physically touching, just by giving to each other what the other most needs, giving support, acceptance, and warmth. It’s clear that she feels this moment strongly, like I do, but in her own unique way. She does a puzzle; I puzzle with these words.

 

In her book Evidence, Mary Oliver says:

 

   This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

 

   …It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving

 

Maybe that’s the key. To see that the world is not just something we observe at a distance but is as close as our own pulse. It includes so much more than the pandemic and political chaos. It includes not only the birds and flowers, cats and all of us people, not just the snow and the cold, but more than we know and all that we imagine. It shows us that giving deeply can be the most meaningful gift we give ourselves….

 

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

 

The Question We Ask Each Morning

The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote:

“Every morning

The world is created…

 

The heaped

ashes of the night

turn into leaves again

 

and fasten themselves to the high branches…”

 

It’s night and the world outside my window is so dark. There is no moon that I can see, and my house is surrounded by woods with no streetlights. But inside, I am lucky. There is another sort of light. My three cats sleep on the bed with me. Two are siblings. Tara, the female, sleeps with her head tucked in her brother’s belly. My wife is changing into sleep clothes.

 

Such trust is here, such vulnerability to each other, that I almost can’t believe it. We do more than keep each other company. We provide the most meaningful light. Together, we release the day and all tensions and questions. We let go of everything except for this moment that we share together. And with great extravagance, we will hopefully let go and sleep.

 

And in the morning… Even though it is still winter, and snow covers the ground, I am awakened early by bird calls. So many species of birds are calling at different volumes and qualities of sound that I feel the earth itself is speaking. Blue jays and crows cry the loudest. But there are also chickadees, woodpeckers, mourning doves, and cardinals. My wife is dressed. One cat is still sleeping. The other two are sitting by the picture window looking out. The light shines so brightly it almost hurts my eyes, until clouds pass overhead and dull it.

 

Each morning asks us the same question, whether we listen or not: what kind of world will we create today?…

 

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

In Today’s World, Reading Books and Caring for Others are Acts of Defiance

One of the biggest threats of this administration is to your sense of who you are as a human being. It is difficult to believe in mutual love and caring when faced with the actions and words of Roy Moore or Steve Bannon, or compassion when faced with the actions and words of Paul Ryan, or beauty when faced with Mitch McConnell. It is difficult to believe courage is possible when many Republicans, who once criticized the president’s racism or spoke out for health care for children, now support his agenda and this tax bill. It is difficult to believe learning, clear thinking, and scientific research is possible when faced with Betsy DeVos or Mr. T. In today’s world, reading books on topics such as (but not limited to) science, philosophy, anthropology, history or poetry is an act of defiance.

 

So, as a new year draws close, dedicate yourself to rebel not only against the abuses of this administration, but for the possibilities of human nature this administration seeks to squash. Seek to understand the actions of people like Mnuchin, Pruit, Sessions, and Flynn, but also Elizabeth Warren, Doug Jones, and the courage of women who spoke out against abuse by Moore, Mr. T, and others.

 

Rebel not only out of understanding how destructive this administration is to our health care, environment, democracy, and national security—but for love, compassion, and a desire for beauty.

 

When you come home from work tired, tired of long hours of work. Or you return from a protest or from completing phone calls to congress and you feel you have lost the sense of what hope is, read Rubin Alves’ poem Tomorrow’s Child. Or if you need to quiet the noise inside and aren’t able to meditate, or walk along a seashore, read Pablo Neruda on Keeping Quiet. Or you don’t know if you should take a chance on your dreams, read about what happens to a Dream Deferred, by Langston Hughes.

 

When you feel taking action or even listening to the news is too difficult, or “When despair for the world grows in me,” read Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things. Or when you feel you are catching the illness of fear and selfishness, or that you have no power, read about the power of Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye— “…it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.”

 

When you feel alone in the struggle even though most Americans, most people in the world, agree with you, read The Low Road by Marge Piercy:

“…it starts when you care

to act, it starts when you do

it again after they said no,

it starts when you say We

and know who you mean, and each

day you mean one more.”

 

And, along with Mary Oliver and her poem What I Have Learned So Far, “Be ignited, or be gone.”

 

Do not forget that love is a possibility in every life. (I don’t know about psychopaths.) We all share more than we differ. But for some, love is a possession and a wall. They hold tightly onto the few as if to possess them, and wall away all others. And in doing so, they wall away themselves. But for many, love is a second skin. It is a boundary allowing you to feel life, to feel yourself, more intensely, and to contact, open to others, more securely.

 

Yes, do what you can to find the power in yourself not only to take action and rebel against injustice and ignorance, but to make joy, kindness, education and care for others the central point of what life and even politics is about. This is the greatest gift you can give anyone, including your self, in this or any season.

Poetry As Meditation

For me to teach well, I cannot go into a classroom without feeling the value of what I teach. I must feel inspired. And isn’t this true with so much of life, no matter your work or profession?

 

So much of education is about the attitude that you bring to life and learning. The famous quote, (which may or may not have come from W. B. Yeats) “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire,” applies first to teachers. The fire is fueled by understanding your students and evoking questions that uncover hidden depths in their own lives–and yours.

 

Inspiration does not come once and remain forever. It must be re-kindled every day. But teaching can be so exhausting. So, what do you do? Maybe continual research, reading, studying. Meditation, to stay in touch with the reality of your own life so you can help students stay in touch with theirs. And poetry.

 

Many nights, when I’m tired or unsure or can’t find a way to connect the material I want to teach to student’s experience, I read poetry. I do it partly to forget my concerns, partly to hear words that have a depth to them. Good poetry is condensed insight. The deeper the mind of the writer, the deeper your own mind can go. So reading poetry can immerse you in insight. But it is not automatic. To make a word come alive, you must come alive. When you read, you need to enter the experience of another person. You let go of your own concerns for a moment in order to let in those of another. Depth of experience, and feeling the life of another being, is inspirational. Thus, reading poetry can both be a practice in empathy and compassion, and be enhanced by such practices.

 

Meditation and compassion practices quiet distracting thoughts and increase conscious feeling and awareness. When your mind gets quiet, writing gets simpler, more spontaneous and honest. You’re not distracted, so when something comes up in your mind or heart, you notice. Colors are brighter, sounds clearer. Words more meaningful. You feel the creativity inherent in the moment-by-moment sensing of the world around you.

 

To use meditation to enjoy a poem, don’t make the experience anything formal or big. Make it freeing, freeing yourself to do nothing but enjoy the poem and the quiet of your own mind. Go to a quiet place. Turn off any media, ignore any phone calls. Resolve to leave ten to twenty minutes to yourself, alone.  The only media to keep near you is a pen and paper, to use after you quiet your mind, and an alarm clock, which you might set for four or five minutes.

 

Sit up, close your eyes partly or fully, and feel your body breathing. Feel one breath at a time. Inhale. Exhale. That’s it. Notice whatever arises with each breath.  Notice sensations, your body expanding as you inhale, contracting and letting go as you exhale. There might be thoughts or emotions. Notice how they come and they go, and then return to the breath. Let your mind be merely openness, awareness, allowing. Be kind to yourself. If you drift off, notice when you realize this and return attention to the breath. Do this for the four or five minutes you set with your alarm clock.

 

After you open your eyes and turn off the alarm, pick up the poem and read it however you want. You might want to read it out loud or sing it. If you are doing this in a classroom, I recommend that you not suggest reading out loud. As you read, notice whatever comes to you. Thoughts, images, feelings. Connections. Some lines or images might stand out more than others. Pick one that stands out for you. Treat it like an entry point.  Ask yourself, “What is it about this image that stands out? How does it connect to me?” That’s how you begin.

 

If you’re a teacher, or maybe a parent, or you just want to do it for yourself, get copies of the popular Teaching With Fire: Poetry That Sustains The Courage To Teach, and Leading From Within: Poetry That Sustains The Courage To Lead. The poems in these books deliver beauty and insight for you to share and develop. There is Marge Piercey’s “To Be of Use,” Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred,” Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” or “Wild Geese.” “Wild Geese” is so evocative. So many adolescents feel there is something wrong with them. This poem says you can free yourself. You do not have to adopt someone else’s idea of who you should be. Your love, your imagination can raise you into the family of the world. David Whyte’s “Sweet Darkness” can elucidate the nature of perception.

 

Many of the same poems are also in Risking Everything: 110 Poems of Love and Redemption edited by Roger Housden. I had a class set of this book that I used in different classes. Use the Rumi poem, “Some Kiss We Want,” or “Two Kinds of Intelligence,” (in Teaching With Fire) to open a discussion of Islam. Rumi was a Sufi, which is a branch of Islam. The Sufis today are big opponents of those who would kill in the name of Islam, in the name of religion or love. Rumi gives such a different view of Islam, of life that can shatter the stereotypes and superficiality which often fill the news.

 

These books can be used for an inspiring education, one that challenges the easy, the superficial, and create a sense that your life, too, can be meaningful and have depth.