Sylvia Boorstein Reads Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps the huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of frightening ourselves with death.
During our show this week, Krista Tippett asked Sylvia Boorstein to read the Pablo Neruda poem she always carries with her. Quite a few listeners have asked where they can hear “Keeping Quiet” again, so here she is reciting the poem in front of a live audience in suburban Detroit.
The Act of Parenting Is Folding the Towels in a Sweet Way
by Krista Tippett, host
I picked up Sylvia Boorstein’s lovely book, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist, years ago and loved it. Then, several years later, I found myself on a panel discussion with her and loved her in person.
I was struck in that discussion by one story she told, about a man who participated in one of her meditation and Metta or “lovingkindness” retreats; she conducts these for Buddhist practitioners but also for rabbis and clergy and lay people of many traditions. As this man prepared to pack up and go home, he described an unsettling sense of vulnerability, of openness to life which also meant that his defenses were down. He felt blessedly sheltered in the context of that retreat but far too exposed to take his newfound vulnerability out into the world.
This has its corollary in becoming a parent, I think. One’s sense of sovereignty and safety goes into freefall — and stays there. But no one tells you this in advance! As the French theologian Louis Evely beautifully put it:
“(W)hen one becomes a father, or a mother, one suddenly sees oneself as vulnerable, in the most sensitive part of one’s being; one is completely powerless to defend oneself, one is no longer free, one is tied up. To become a father is to experience an infinite dependency on an infinitely small, frail being, dependent on us and therefore omnipotent over our heart.”
So how to live, how to love, how to know what we can do (and what we can’t) to raise children who will participate in the world’s beauty and its pain and be safe inside their skin. This too is a conundrum, a daunting challenge that we rarely name together. But it is always there if we are raising children not merely to be successful (and there’s lots of advice about that), but to be good and grounded and kind.
I went into this conversation with Sylvia Boorstein hoping for some practical wisdom about imparting such qualities of character. In the course of our time together, some of it in exchange with an audience of people with children in their lives, we circled back to the simplest and most daunting reality of all: our children are likely, in the end, to act and live as we act and live. Nurturing their inner lives means nurturing our inner lives, for their sakes.
I couldn’t have found a better conversation partner on this. Sylvia Boorstein has four grown children and seven grandchildren, and her spiritual practice is blessedly reality-based. Buddhism, of course, is at its core about embracing reality head on, about minimizing suffering in life by first acknowledging that suffering is a fact of life and resolving not to make it worse.
So, as she describes, this spiritual practice has helped her grasp that her lifelong tendency to worry is simply a quality she possesses, no more remarkable than the fact that, as she puts it, she is short and has brown hair. Others of us may have a tendency towards anger, or to reach for sensory comfort when life throws its curve balls. The trick for achieving balance and joy in our own lives — a trick made both harder and more important by the presence of children who exhaust as well as delight us — is first to know this about ourselves.
Spiritual parenting, as Sylvia Boorstein describes it, is not about adding work or effort to our overly busy lives. It is about self-knowledge and “wise effort” that helps us live gracefully moment by moment. It is manifest as much in how we fold the laundry as in how we discipline or praise our children. She offers this, for example, as a simple piece of effort that can reorient our attitudes and responses in all kinds of situations. Rather than asking, “Am I pleased?” in any given situation, we can ask instead, “In this moment, am I able to care?”
On Being in Detroit
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
A few days before the holiday break, we flew to the Motor City for an interview with Grace Lee Boggs at the Boggs Center in East Detroit. The 96-year-old philosopher and activist did not disappoint, and neither did some of the wonderful people and projects happening there. Look for our show “Becoming Detroit” this coming Thursday, January 19.
Along the way, we stopped by to see our good friend Mikel Ellcessor, the general manager of WDET at Wayne State University, and couldn’t resist having Krista pose with this massive wall sign in the lobby. This public radio station is doing some pretty interesting on-the-ground reporting and community building; check ‘em out online or on the radio, if you’re in the area.
From Zone 8 to Cell Block to Urban Network Bookstore
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
“My mama became my hero and my father became my mentor.”
Hunkered down in a WDET motor city hoodie and a down sleeping bag listening to KAXE in northern Minnesota, I caught the first episode of The Listening Post, a documentary series from the BBC that “invites close, unhurried listening to the stories of individuals.” And wouldn’t you know it, the first profile tells the story of a Detroit native.
Yusef Shakur, who now runs a bookstore and community center in Zone 8, grew up in the same neighborhood and became a gangster as a teenager. At the age of 19 in 1992, he began serving a nine-year prison sentence. While there, he reaches out to his father who’s also serving time — a man he’s never met and considers “a sperm donor.” His father’s reply changes the course of his life:
“Son, let your past mistakes become your teacher because your mistakes can become our greatest education. … You must use this time to prepare yourself to leave better than what you came in as. Turn your cell into a university by rebuilding yourself from the inside out. … P.S. You misspelled knowledge, religion, envelope, address, message and religious. If you don’t have a dictionary, you need to get one. Words are powerful because they convey who we are. Use your mind to free yourself or somebody will use your mind to keep you a slave.”
It’s a story about the power of a lost father’s love, hope and resurrection, and a tale of the meaning of time and attention in the most dire of circumstances.