Category Archives: Nourishing Words
Writings of others I want you to know about
From Tracking Bobcats in California by Sylvia Linsteadt, on the Dark Mountain blog
I think there is an essential heartbreak at the core of modern human life. We have made ourselves alone as creatures. We don’t remember anymore the languages of the bobcats, the black bears, the weasels and frogs, the kingfishers, crows, voles, elk and rattlesnakes who are our closest relatives on this planet (not to mention the trees and grasslands, fruits and flowers without which none of us would be alive at all). They speak and sing, love, fight, nest and rage, scream and suffer just as we do, but we don’t know how to hear them. We don’t think we are supposed to. We have made ourselves believe we no longer belong, that we are apart, that this is a good thing, and meanwhile, some ancient grief has lodged straight into our cellular tissue, our dark marrow, and won’t leave. That’s why, the very first time I came to the beach with a teacher and began to read a trail of coyote tracks, in a side-trot, through sand, I woke up later that night with my eyes full of tears.
This is part of our heritage as human beings, part of our tangled psychological and biological make-up: we were made to read the tracks and signs of animals as they move through ecosystems. We were made to do this before we ever passed on mythologies, or wrote down songs. Our brains themselves developed as we followed elk tracks through sand, as we ate and worshipped and sang to the animals that we depended on both for our survival and, I would like to argue, our sense of self.
Suppose the molecular changes taking place
In the mind during the act of praise
Resulted in an emanation rising into space.
Suppose that emanation went forth
In the configuration of its occasion:
For instance, the design of rain pocks
On the lake’s surface or the blue depths
Of the canyon with its horizontal cedars stunted.
Suppose praise had physical properties
And actually endured? What if the pattern
Of its disturbances rose beyond the atmosphere,
Becoming a permanent outline implanted in the cosmos—
The sound of the celebratory banjo or horn
Lodging near the third star of Orion’s belt;
Or to the east of the Pleiades, an atomic
Disarrangement of the words,
“How particular, the pod-eyed hermit crab
And his prickly orange legs”?
Suppose benevolent praise,
Coming into being by our will,
Had a separate existence, its purple or azure light
Gathering in the upper reaches, affecting
The aura of morning haze over autumn fields,
Or causing a perturbation in the mode of an asteroid.
What if praise and its emanations
Were necessary catalysts to the harmonious
Expansion of the void? Suppose, for the prosperous
Welfare of the universe, there were an element
Of need involved.
Pattiann Rogers, from Firekeeper: Selected Poems
(originally from Expectations of Light, 1981)
Image: Kathleen Perelka
The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses—
How beautiful when we first beheld it.
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads—
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly. It has all time. It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve. Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff. — As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident
As the rock and ocean that we are made from.
by Robinson Jeffers, 1929
Image: Lovell Birge Harrison (1854-1929)
Sunburst at Sea, c. 1913
The Johnson Collection
When the garden of your unchosen lives has enough space to breathe beneath your chosen path, your life enjoys a vitality and a sense of creative tension. Rilke refers to this as “the repository of unlived things.” You know that you have not compromised the immensity that you carry, and in which you participate. You have not avoided the call of commitment; yet you hold your loyalty to your chosen path in such a way as to be true to the blessings and dangers of life’s passionate sacramentality.
No life is single. Around and beneath each life is the living presence of these adjacencies. Often, it is not the fact of our choosing that is vital, but rather the way we hold that choice. In so far as we can, we should ensure that our chosen path is not a flight from complexity. If we opt for complacency, we exclude ourselves from the adventure of being human. Where all danger is neutralized, nothing can ever grow.
To keep the borders of choice porous demands critical vigilance and affective hospitality. To live in such a way invites risk and engages complexity. Life cannot be neatly compartmentalized. Once the psyche is engaged with such invitation and courage, it is no longer possible to practice tidy psychological housekeeping. To keep one’s views and convictions permeable is to risk the intake of new possibility, which can lead to awkward change. Yet the integrity of growth demands such courage and vulnerability from us; otherwise the tissues of our sensibility atrophy and we become trapped behind the same predictable mask of behavior.
~ John O’Donohue
from Eternal Echoes
This entry comes to us courtesy of Dean Keller at The Beauty We Love,
one of the online repositories of insight that I visit on a regular basis
Image: e.e. cummings, New Moon
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Wendell Berry, from Standing by Words, 1983
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours I, 12
Translation: Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
From A Year With Rilke
Love what you love,
all the more fiercely because it will not last forever.
Cherish each moment,
all the more precious because grace is fleeting.
Seek not triumph, but balance;
not the straight trajectory upwards, but the circle,
the turning wheel that brings us back to fruitful earth
where the only constant is our continual choice and ability to love.
Already my gaze is upon the hill, the sunlit one.
The way to it, barely begun, lies ahead.
So we are grasped by what we have not grasped,
full of promise, shining in the distance.
It changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something we barely sense, but are;
a movement beckons, answering our movement….
But we just feel the wind against us.
and for me.
A page turning;
always beginning now
Rainer Maria Rilke, Uncollected Poems
Translation: Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
From A Year With Rilke
Painting: Aletha Kuschan
Great spirit, I say “thank you”
For putting life inside of me
Great spirit, I send my thanks to you
For all the blessings I can see
And all the blessings I cannot see
I sing this these resonant words whenever I visit hot springs. And other times outdoors. But always at hot springs. I sang them this morning in the springs at Bodhi Manda as the pre-dawn sky turned from grey to light blue and the still-to-come sun brushed a few clouds with pink, 55 years after the morning I was born into this world.
Originally heard years ago; from a song by Oregon songstress Alice DiMicele (from searching for Alice, I see it’s also a Biblical reference…)
Image from RexWall
The moments we enjoy most as they unfold, and that we treasure long afterward, are the ones we experience most deeply. Depth roots us in the world, gives life substance and wholeness. It enriches our work, our relationships, everything we do. It’s the essential ingredient of a good life and one of the qualities we admire most in others.
From Hamlet’s Blackberry:
Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
(Painting: John Twachtman, Winter Harmony)
E.B. White, in a 1969 interview with Israel Shenker:
If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.
But every morning I awake torn between the desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it.
This makes it hard to plan the day!
Photo by Jeff Clay, Clayhaus Photography
Just when it seemed that journalism had been reduced to pithy two-paragraph blog posts and three-minute TV news or website video snippets, with 15-minute “in depth” reports on 60 Minutes being the height of investigative insight, a shining light has appeared through the clouds!
Fueled largely by the emergence of the Kindle as a place to read during down-time without staring into a glowing screen, and further encouraged by the more recreational media browsing that’s become popular on the iPad, “long-form journalism” is making a dramatic comeback in this age of bite-sized news. Thanks to several excellent editorial aggregators, lovers of the well-crafted essay, compelling profile, and in-depth on-the-ground reporting from around the globe now have easy access to the best work of the world’s best journalistic writers. Drawing from current print and online publications, as well as the archives of such stalwarts of the form as The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The London Review, Vanity Fair, Foreign Affairs, and many more, these sites offer a treasure-trove of writing that’s well worth settling down with for a half hour or hour.
From these sites (links below), you can check out the opening sections of their latest recommended items and load the full pieces in your browser, then send them to your Kindle (with readily-available plug-ins), add them to your Read It Later or Instapaper reading list, perhaps to be accessed from your iPad or laptop some evening or weekend, or, of course, read right on your computer.
Just as a taste, today’s top selections include a Foreign Policy piece by a recent visitor to Iraq, a new Atlantic piece on Vladimir Putin’s risky game of bending history in Russia, a Grantland look on concussions in high school football, a piece from Businessweek on the inventor of a revolutionary new sneaker that never made it to market, and an Adbusters look at “peak nature.” Oh, and an old 1952 tour of trailer parks and a new Sports Illustrated profile of Michael Jordan’s high school coach. Longform’s Best of 2011 included an incredible 3-part cautionary tale about Derek Boogaard, an NHL “enforcer,” a heart-wrenching story about Vaughn, Georgia, one of the towns wiped from the map by last year’s tornado swarms, one on a blind man who learned to navigate his world by echolocation, and a visit to a crazy Russian movie set, home to thousands. While no one will be interested in all of this, a weekly perusal of these sites is sure to reward every reader with a few gems.
I encourage you to check a few of these editorial sites out, and see which ones strike your fancy over time. I get something from them all. Byliner is the most reliably
Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathetic ping and swell.
This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.
(can’t find the source, though it appears to be prose, in that every time it appears online it has no line breaks.)
Go stand by the fence.
Keep quiet. The horses will come –
thirty, forty of them,
however many live and dine there.
They will put their long, narrow noses
one or two at a time
over the fence to nuzzle you,
maybe nibble on your shirt
or suck your finger.
They are watching you
with full attention.
You look curious to them:
docile and harmless.
They want to touch you, pet you,
see what skin feels like.
Don’t disappoint them.
From Chain Letter of the Soul, a volume of his New and Selected Works published near the time of his death in 2009. I just ordered it – never heard of him until moments ago when I read four of his poems in Wildness and Captivity, an online journal edited by Mary Davis (of the Wildlands Project and Wild Earth fame, at least for me; oops: that Mary Davis died in early 2011) on a website new to me, Mythic Imagination. Here’s one more from Bill:
This morning no sound but the loud
breathing of the sea. Suppose that under
all that salt water lived the god
that humans have spent ten thousand years
trawling the heavens for.
We caught the wrong metaphor.
Real space is wet and underneath,
the church of shark and whale and cod.
The noise of those vast lungs
exhaling: the plain chanting of monkfish choirs.
Heaven’s not up but down, and hell
is to evaporate in air. Salvation,
to drown and breathe
forever with the sea.
To be loved.
To never forget your own insignificance,
To never get used to the unspeakable violence
and the vulgar disparity of life around you.
To seek joy in the saddest places.
To pursue beauty in its lair.
To never simplify what is complicated
or complicate what is simple.
To respect strength, never power.
Above all, to watch.
To try and understand.
To never look away.
And never, never to forget.
Arundhati Roy, from The End of Imagination