The silence was broken at last by the little bell which signified the end of the morning activity. Taking hold of the basket again, I prepared to leave. But I was only fourteen and curiosity overcame me. Turning to the old woman, I asked, ‘What are you looking at?’ … Slowly she turned to me and I could see her face for the first time. It was radiant. In a voice filled with joy she said, ‘Why child, I am looking at the Light.’
Many years later as a pediatrician, I would watch newborns look at the light with that same rapt expression, almost as if they were listening for something.
…A ninety-six-year old woman may stop speaking because arteriosclerosis has damaged her brain, or she has become psychotic and she is no longer able to speak. But she may also have withdrawn into a space between the worlds, to contemplate what is next, to spread her sails and patiently wait to catch the light.
~Rachel Naomi Remen, from Kitchen Table Wisdom
Remembering this little glimmer of grace every time the sun peeks through this hazy shade of Minnesota winter. Her unedited conversation with Krista Tippett is marvelous. Listen generously.
By inaction one can become the center of thought, the focus of responsibility, the arbiter of wisdom. Full allowance must be made for others, while remaining unmoved oneself. There must be a thorough compliance with divine principles, without any manifestation thereof. All of which may be summed up in the one word “passivity.” For the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing: it refuses nothing. It receives, but does not keep. And thus he can triumph over matter, without injury to himself.
The Vulnerability of Listening
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"Listening entails vulnerability. Listening requires a willingness, even a longing, to understand another."
A few weeks ago, our very own Krista Tippett stopped by the offices of Huffington Post in New York City to tape this short feature. The result: "Two Minutes of Wisdom with Krista Tippett."
Hands through the Ages with Poetry and Photography
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"I’m looking at my hand right now as we talk. It’s got a lot of wrinkles because I’m 81 years old, but it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets, and it has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story."
Her magic manifested itself in the way that she so fully imbibed the words and sentiment of Rainer Maria Rilke. She drank and released them with new imagination and her own being. There must be something about being a translator that requires one to give oneself over so fully to the poet she’s sharing with the world; when Macy does it, you grow with her and that intimacy transports us to another dimension.
So, seeing Ennadre’s photos only became more profound and cosmically coincidental when I clicked through from the front page of Ennadre’s site and discovered this quote from Rilke:
Works of art are born of those who confront danger,
who go to the limit of an experience,
to a point beyond which no human can go.
The farther one adventures, the more distinctive,
the more personal, the more unique a life becomes.
[h/t Destin a Terre]
We don’t have to schedule a trip to the monastery to enjoy the benefits of stopping for bells of mindfulness. We can use many ‘ordinary’ events in our daily lives to call us back to ourselves and to the present moment. The ringing of the telephone, for example: many of my students pause to breathe in and out mindfully three times before they pick up the phone, in order to be fully present to themselves and to the person calling them. Or when we are driving, a red light can be a wonderful friend reminding us to stop, relax, let go of discouraging thought patterns and feel more space inside.
—Thich Nhat Hanh, from his interview in Friday’s Huffington Post.
I greatly appreciate Marianne Schnall’s line of questioning here. She could’ve gone philosophical on us, but she didn’t. She’s seeking advice on how to better understand and operate in this frenetic, always-connected world we live in. How do we vacation and relax? How do we prioritize our relationships with people and our electronic gadgets? These are real questions we are all struggling with in the most ordinary of ways. Which reminds me of this quote that I almost featured:
"Relationships are like a forest: it takes a long time to build up precious trust, but one really thoughtless act or remark can be like a lighted match that destroys everything."
Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Writing as Compassion
Kate Moos, managing producer
William Maxwell treats his personal material as if it were history. It is one part memory, one part research and one part hearsay but one hundred percent compassion. Compassion in my mind is an admixture of feeling and sustained attention with regard to others. Compassion is the absence of cruelty. Compassion is steady and relaxed—allowing patience where we may not have any for ourselves. Compassion is acceptance of what you didn’t realize or can’t understand. Compassion is not attainable without process—going through the various methods of drafting. Each one provides you with another perspective, another point of focus. Each method provides more ingredients to the approach that helps the content to stand on its own so that the writer can leave it behind them.
Most Wednesday nights I’m at the kitchen table staring into my laptop screen at a living room full of women. It’s my writing group, which is presided over by Nancy Beckett, an incredible playwright and writing teacher in Chicago. My admiration for her insight, depth, and crazy, mordant Irish wit never evaporates.
Everyone else assembles in her apartment for our three-hour sessions; I Skype in from St. Paul.
This week we read an excerpt from the great editor and writer William Maxwell’s creative nonfiction, and, as is the drill each week, Nancy gave us her deeply insightful lesson, a portion of which I cite above.
What I love about this work is that it goes past how to string sentences together, though there is that. It reminds me why I write. As Nancy would say, “People write because they can’t help themselves.” I write in order to know. I write in order to be changed.
(photo above: Tina, one of the group members, reads from her novel-in-progress.)
The brain is plastic and continues to change, not in getting bigger but allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding.
—Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, as quoted in "How to Train the Aging Brain."
I rather enjoyed this observation and the additive notion of our brains growing older and not just simply deteriorating. And, by regularly jarring our brains with a “disorienting dilemma” (which I hope we accomplish with the many voices on SOF), we can probe and add to that depth and interconnectedness of knowledge.
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Wisdom Comes at 65
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Last winter I paid a hefty fine to the Minneapolis Public Library. I couldn’t let go of several photography books, including a pair by Andrew Zuckerman: portraits of beautiful animals — two- and four-legged forms — supple and lithe in their stillness, majestic in simplicity, unpretentious and vulnerable.
I intended to share some of these images then; I’m glad I waited. This video from Wisdom: The Greatest Gift One Generation Can Give to Another shares the ideas and profundity of those who have lived a life worthy of furrows and ridges. A few of my favorites touching on themes of work and love, conflict and resolution:
You can’t get to wonderful without passin’ through all right.
—Bill Withers, musician
Love something. I think we’ve got to learn love something deeply.
—Andrew Wyeth, artist
The human being has a need for dignity just as — like water, like air.
—Wole Soyinka, writer
If you’re willing to offer your life for it, you might actually get something done.
—Bernice Johnson Reagon, activist
If everyone takes care of their own area, then we won’t have any problems.
—Willie Nelson, musician
You don’t stop doing things because you get old. You get old because you stop doing things.
—Rosamunde Pilcher, writer
I get sillier as I get older. I don’t know what wisdom means.
—Judi Dench, actor
…who I am, and what I need, these are things I have to find out myself.
—Chinua Achebe, writer
(photo: Andrew Zuckerman)