Category Archives: Nourishing Words
Writings of others I want you to know about
Again, in lieu of any fresh songs springing forth from my own muse, I offer this recent reverie from a writer I’ve come to deeply appreciate, Brian Doyle. In an essay on the wonderful website curated by the Center for Humans and Nature, he glimpses the needle’s eye:
What is the greatest single virtue of our species? What is the one thing that we have in spades and abundance, the one thing that perhaps allowed us to prosper and multiply in such staggering numbers, to send men and machines into the sea of the stars, to fling a chirping robot past the boundaries of our very galaxy? Imagination, brothers and sisters. Imagination. We dream and then make real our dreams. And all that inventiveness, all that innovative zest, all our yearning to solve puzzles and discover secrets and worry inarguable truths from the welter of lies and distractions, all our deep pleasure in making things that were never in the world before in just that way—now that is become the thin thread of our salvation. Not to mention all the other actors in the play. Not to mention your children and their children
Following his heart and his pen through a series of powerful and poignant reflections (please do read the whole piece), Brian reminds us, and asks us:
We dreamed ourselves aloft. We dreamed ways to wrestle and wrangle rivers. We caught electricity. We persuaded plants to march in rows and give us their children to eat. We dreamed ever-faster ways to whir along the skin of the earth in steeds of steel. We dreamed throbbing cities so big and vast and high they seem unreal when we shuffle through them gawking far below. We dreamed the most extraordinary music and the most haunting deep-shared stories. We invented uncountable thousands of languages and religions and dances and sports and foods and medicines. Can’t we invent new fuels for our steel steeds, and new ways to catch and share energy, and new ways to spin detritus into fuel and energy? Have we gone stale and dim as a species, here at the apex of our population and technology boom? Were these last centuries of incredible invention and innovation and imagination all just for money and power? Or do we have a last slim door through which to send our wild holy imaginations into a future where children do not gasp and retch and duck the bullets of the Water Wars?
I am holding the hand of a small child in a yellow raincoat and orange bib overalls. His little boots have long ago filled with water. His hair is damp and smells of salt. And I am staring at my boots and thinking of what it could possibly mean to this child, to live on a planet whose life-supporting mechanisms have frayed and fallen apart.
He sucks in his breath. “Hey! Guys! Come close and look. Come close and look.” Under a blade of rainbow kelp, he has found the red, orange-spiked, gooey sea animal called the California sea cucumber, Parastichopus californicus. How beautiful it is, and how beautiful is the human impulse to be astonished.
But there’s this: Yesterday, on a beach only two miles from this one, sea cucumbers by the hundreds washed up, dead. I’d never seen anything like that before. Gloriously colored animals sagging under the sudden weight of the world, they rolled in with the tidal detritus, tangled in seaweed and slime.
What does this mean for our children, yours and mine, this dying? Can children thrive in a world where other species are vanishing as they watch? I just don’t know. And what does it mean for us, the parents and grandparents who desperately love these children?
Do read the whole thing; it’s beautifully written. And click through for links to two other recent pieces by Kathleen.
I recently discovered Michael Leunig, an Australian cartoonist whose wonderful and often-poignant work is well worth perusing; his site features extensive archives. Click through below for a few more of the ones that jumped out for me (one in every five or ten, I’d say; many others are pretty grim, if also too true).
A Valentine’s Day message from The Teilhard Project speaks to the deeper spirit of the day:
Love is the the most universal, formidable, and most mysterious
of the cosmic energies
—Building the Earth
The day will come when,
after harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides, gravitation,
we shall harness for God the energies of love.
And, on that day, for the second time in the history of the world,
man will have discovered fire.
—Toward the Future
The special effect of love is to plunge the beings it draws together more deeply into themselves.
Love is a sacred reserve of energy, and the blood stream of evolution;
that is the first discovery we can make from the sense of Earth.
—Building the Earth
Learn more about Teilhard de Chardin on this edition of On Being, in which Krista Tippet interviews three thought leaders for whom he has been a formative influence (includes links to transcript and audio).
Though it may appear that this wayward
stumbling is errant, choreographers
can see that it possesses the same grace
as a leaf fallen into concert with a steady
creek and its swerving currents of rapids.
Though the progress of this thought
might sound to some like stuttering,
the listening blind know that it follows
the same pattern as rain streaming
in gusts against a windowpane at night.
. . .
The twisting and weaving of a pea vine
intertwining with its invisible love
may appear to be without direction
or purpose, but students of tenacity
and sunlight know better.
. . .
Pattiann Rogers, Study from Right Angles
Click through to read the poem in full
(I feel that this applies not only—though yes, deeply—to human connections, but also in subtler, perhaps more partial yet palpable ways to our presence with other species, landscapes, the earth and sky, and indeed, all creation)
To love another as a person…we have to love him for what he is in himself, and not for what he is to us. We have to love him for his own good, not for the good we get out of him.
And this is impossible unless we are capable of a love which “transforms” us, so to speak, into the other person, making us able to see things as he sees them, love what he loves, experience the deeper realities of his own life as if they were our own.
Without sacrifice, such a transformation is utterly impossible. But unless we are capable of this kind of transformation “into the other” while remaining ourselves, we are not yet capable of a fully human existence.
from Disputed Questions
Image: Spirituality and Practice
These thoughts were percolating as I wrote the previous post (scroll down).
Laurie Anderson wrote a loving, joyful letter to the local paper this week, offering an intimate glimpse of Lou Reed in his final days and moments; the rich companionship they shared sparkles from these words. Sounds like a near-perfect death: immersed in natural beauty, in the company of his loving partner, reaching into and through the moment in the practice of his spiritual discipline. Wonderful.
To our neighbors:
What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.
Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home. Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!
Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.
Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.
– Laurie Anderson
his loving wife and eternal friend
PS: Laurie later wrote a longer, incredibly beautiful piece for Rolling Stone; don’t miss it! Here’s a little taste:
We tried to understand and apply things our teacher Mingyur Rinpoche said – especially hard ones like, “You need to try to master the ability to feel sad without actually being sad.”
As meditators, we had prepared for this – how to move the energy up from the belly and into the heart and out through the head. I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou’s as he died.
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