This being a human is a messy business. We’re born into lives we didn’t choose, with bodies and brains programmed by thousands of years of evolution to act in ways we may never fully understand, into a world that is constantly in flux. This gorgeous mind of ours has the astounding capacity to time travel – a phenomenon that is both a blessing and a curse as it gives us a portal to visit our pasts and imagine our futures by the same means that it can cause us to get stuck there. The terrain of our inner experiences can be as frightening as it is enlivening, our emotions as immeasurably deep with joy as pain, while our outer experiences rarely provide any ground more stable.
And yet, amidst this uncertainty – amidst the awkward, clumsy, difficult task of navigating a world, brain, and body without a compass – we laugh. We share; we connect. …Keep Reading!
If You Knew
What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.
When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die.
A friend told me she’d been with her aunt.
They’d just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt’s powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.
How close does the dragon’s spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?
~ Ellen Bass, from The Human Line (2007)
Watch and listen to Ellen Bass read “If You Knew,” here.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~ Mary Oliver, in Dream Work (1986)
See a wonderful video of this poem here – a collaboration between We Are Wilderness and Live Learn Evolve, using Mary Oliver’s own reading of Wild Geese.
“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are, when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed, and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time…
… It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real.
In this way, our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world, but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold, and the car handle feels wet, and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”
~ Mark Nepo (2011), The Book of Awakening, p. 158
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
— David Wagoner, from Collected Poems, 1956-1976
Read Parker Palmer’s introduction to this poem – called ‘Lost in the Wilds of Your Life’ – on the On Being blog, here.
The Real Work
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)
Love? Yes please. Kindness? Sure, ok. Lovingkindness? Uh…
Things start to sound a little off-putting when we put two sappy-sounding virtues together and call it a meditation – like a Hallmark card or, as Dan Harris puts it, “something we’d get lectured about in kindergarten.” As quoted from this week’s Mindful.org article, many of us respond to hearing about loving-kindness practice with something to the effect of: “but… ew, what is that?” Or, we simply tune out and move on to something more productive. But Dan Harris and Sharon Salzberg want us to know that loving-kindness is anything but – and yes, this is the technical term – “ooey gooey.” …Keep Reading! (short video included)
Watching the local village health workers (women selected by their communities to be trained by CRHP; who are poor, low caste, often illiterate, and have not received more than basic education) take care of the health services and health education needs of their villages is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen during my time in India. Here, Pushpa tests the glucose level in the urine of a villager with diabetes by adding Benedict’s solution, heating it to boil on coals from her stove, and comparing changes in color to a chart on the bottle. This villager has been using Pushpa’s recommendations for …Keep Reading (and more photos!)
As soon as the feet step off the plane, India calls the senses to alert. Heat immediately wraps around exposed skin, seeping through day-old travel clothes. A warm, musky odor confirms that the sterile plane environment has been left behind, as a child returning home inhales deeply and sighs with content, “Ah, it smells like Mumbai.” To the unfamiliar nose, it’s a smell that can’t be placed, for which the brain has as of yet no mental map. It is deep and inescapable, somehow both sweet – as if fruit has been left in the sun too long – and sour; not in a crisp, tart way, but with an edgeless humidity, as if after strenuous physical activity when all olfaction is filtered through the smell of body heat.
Stepping outside of the airport, the ears are inundated with families and drivers shouting names of loved ones and travelers, each competing to see if his voice can rise above the dull roar. There is a small space between the the newcomer and the sea of people, creating a stage on which the deer-in-headlights act can be perfected. …Keep Reading!
I’ve been at the Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP) campus in Jamkhed, India for 6 days now, and my brain is bursting with new information. CRHP has been working with the rural poor since its inception in 1971, over 40 years ago. Its founders, Drs. Raj and Mabelle Arole, developed a model of community-based primary health care that is designed to improve health among the poorest of the poor by addressing the social and economic factors that limit access to health in impoverished and marginalized communities.
More than a broad model of healthcare, the Jamkhed Model is based on the specific voiced needs of the community, and is dependent upon the participation and engagement of the community members to bring health to their own village. Fundamentally, it is a grassroots model that empowers individuals to take health into their own hands, endowing them with the knowledge and training to be self-sustainable rather than relying on the government or well-meaning organizations for support. …Keep Reading!