As each petal is wise in the purpose
and symmetry of a flower, so must be the words we choose, each an
action with a will to bloom. Be brave, be brief, beware the power you
wield; thoughtless use is profound abuse. Brevity is depth of
character, the moral courage to speak to love in beauty’s light. Do
not say, “I am right.” Say, rather, “Now is the time.”
Words are actions far more potent than
what we think they mean. They are the sinew and bowel of thought and
dream. Therefore speak not, write not, quote not blindly. Live
kindly, and let that meaning be your means. Sing the language of our
larger body, which is silence, and moves on wings.
In terms of the individual, I think one
of the surest signs of self-understanding, which is suggested in
courage and nobility but is really something much deeper and more
subtle, is shown by he or she who no longer identifies with struggle,
be it personal, national, religious, or political. To the degree
which we identify with our physical and psychological pain, do we
come to be identified with them by others. When groups, communities,
and nations so identify, the obstacles to be overcome, rather than
being more easily dealt with by larger and ever larger numbers, are
strengthened by resistance until they seem nigh insurmountable. In
turn, we see our struggle against powerful odds as justification of
our acts, and proof of their worth. But are they worthy? Are they
evidence of an enlightened, unselfish outlook and attitude? Or are
they merely a helpless reaction and direct result of our refusal to
look beyond habit and upbringing to see and understand things more
deeply? If, instead of steadily and patiently examining things for
ourselves, we accept each tired old maxim served us and handed down,
do we not help perpetuate the problems we claim ourselves highly
qualified and intelligent enough to overcome?
Here a lesson might be had from the
willow, graceful year-round, willingly yielding superfluous branches
and twigs to the greater good of its symmetry and grace, a shelter
for cattle and lovers alike at water’s edge, gazed upon with
admiration by stars and humans. So our strength lies, not in
resistance, but in surrender. If, rather than being universal
star-stuff in musical motion, I am merely an Armenian and a Swede,
and you are a German, Christian, or Japanese, what hope is
there? We are intimately related to each other and to the other
animals and the rocks and the trees, yet caught up in and blinded by
our surface differences. Every bomb dropped, every life taken, every
man cheated, every person not tolerated, hated, or brushed aside,
shows how little we understand what can be a great source of joy
— that of living together, and of being willows for each other,
through whatever obstacle or difficulty we face — that of being
star-bright and willow-wise, on our flight of love through space.
One danger of making your personal
complaints known, is that they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I
hurt, I have trouble sleeping, my digestion is not what it should be
— once such things are spoken aloud, to justify yourself they must
be lived up to. Therefore I do hurt, I do have trouble sleeping, and
my digestion really isn’t what it should be — in other words,
noble sufferer that I am, it is just as I have told you, only much
worse. But please don’t feel sorry for me — just give me your
undivided attention and tell me what a hero I am.
Complaint is a powerful force. It has a
dramatic negative effect on how we are seen, and on how we see
ourselves. A positive attitude, on the other hand, has just the
opposite result. By patiently adopting it, we teach ourselves
strength, and are an example of strength for others. “Ah, but if
you only knew . . .” And just what makes you think I don’t? Am I
not human like you, and do we not share the common lot of our kind?
All humanity is crying out, suffering pain, loss, grief, hunger,
satiety, loneliness. We have too much. We have too little. We have
everything. We have nothing at all — except this glorious,
outwardly expanding breath . . . .
I remember my father, suffering
terribly with osteoarthritis, his back a crumpled mass of calcified,
cushion-less bone, answering friends’ and neighbors’ inquiries
after his health by saying how good he felt. Gone twenty years now,
free from his agony, his attitude is still a positive outward
I also remember my daily visits with a
friend, who, with one leg, died of cancer when he was eighteen and I
was seventeen. Always a joke, always a smile, painting beautiful
pictures while propped up on his side in bed, the soft winter light
entering through his window and falling on his hand . . . .
And so I ask, what will be your legacy?
What will be my own?
Shall I mention it — the vein in a
leaf, the stain on a hand, the scent of mold from the land, how they
each lend grace to a man, if space is made while he can, to shovel
his way to the grave he digs, even as the digging makes him glad —
and how, by the light that is in you, it seems I already have?
I think one of the most revolutionary,
transformative acts we can undertake, is to set aside a moment during
which we do not criticize anything or anyone, including ourselves.
Criticize no husband, no wife, no child, no acquaintance, or friend.
Criticize no politician, no religious leader, no organization, no
criminal, no celebrity, no teacher. Criticize no form of employment,
no way of life, no sexual orientation, no perceived shortcoming. Do
not even criticize the weather. See if you can do it. See if you can
let go of that deadly old habit, and with it the familiar illusions
of superiority and inferiority, failure and success, long held so
dear, and then feel those undermining elements within you subside. It
is not strength and resistance we need most in this life, but to
learn the art of acceptance and letting go. One minute, two, a
lifetime, the world. Love, help, and a positive sense, are
sweet, essential nourishment.
The ear fills with sky-sounds, the eye
with cloud-motion and leaf-fall. Distances are not what we think them at all, but blessings ripe and uncountable. The
glad-spent remains of the summer garden are brought to the pile.
Manure is spread on the ground, each shovelful a soft aromatic
reminder of childhood on the farm, a great love-pasture rimmed by
plum trees and sparrows. The rudder-sea-shovel plies welcoming soil,
makes amatory metal shine, brings a shout up through mast-wood to the
hands and the arms. Where it ends, no one knows. The brain and the
heart are wise with their cards, the show of their tell the patience
of art. Sunflower seeds. Leaf-mold. The plumpness of worms. Shovel to
keyboard sail our words, spider the web of our space. Computer grace.
Charon, old ferryman, pass by this place.