Hold It All



Always maintain only a joyful mind.
—Mind-training slogan, Pema  Chödrön, Always Maintain a Joyful Mind


The effect of wisdom is continuous joy… and only the strong, the just, and the temperate can possess this joy.
—Seneca, quoted in Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius


Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.
—Leon Bloy, quoted in Dorothy Day, Fall Appeal, Catholic Worker, 1964 Read the rest of this entry »


During this active seedtime, Emerson was also reading in all directions. He read systematically only for a particular project. He read current books and old books…And from almost everything he read he culled phrases, details, facts, metaphors, anecdotes, witticisms, aphorisms, and ideas. He kept this energetic reading and excerpting up for over forty years; the vast system of his personal notebooks and indexes — including indexes to indexes — eventually reached 230 volumes, filling four shelves of a good-sized bookcase. The notebooks were in part his storehouse of original writing and in part a filing system, designed to store and I’ve him access to the accumulating fruits of this reading on every topic that ever interested him throughout his life.
——Robert D. Richardson Jr., Emerson: The Mind on Fire  

He started with jottings, perceptions, phrases, short bits often written on the backs of envelopes or other scraps of paper, and often while out walking. Later, back in his room, he would expand the jottings in a notebook or, sometimes, a letter. Later still, he would work up a lecture or an essay, or return to a familiar subject, pulling together bits, some of which could be quite a few years old. He kept indexes for his notebooks so he could find things in what became an increasingly multivolume writer’s storehouse of material.
—Robert D. Richardson Jr., Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind 


The Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire once wrote, “There’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory.” Late in life, when his political horizons broadened out, Edward Said would often quote this line. We should make it our credo as well. We want to nurture a movement, not hatch a cult. The victory to which we aspire is inclusive, not exclusive; it is not at anyone’s expense. It is to be victorious without vanquishing. No one is a loser, and we all are gainers if together we stand by truth and justice. “I am not anti-English; I am not anti-British; I am not anti-any government,” Gandhi insisted, “but I am anti-untruth—anti-humbug, and anti-injustice.”(188) Shouldn’t we also say that we are not anti-Jewish, anti-Israel or, for that matter, anti-Zionist? The prize on which our eyes should be riveted is human rights, human dignity, human equality. What, really, is the point of ideological litmus tests such as, Are you now or have you ever been a Zionist? Indeed, it is Israel’s apologists who thrive on and cling to them, bogging down interlocutors in distracting and endless intellectual sideshows—What is a Jew? Are the Jews a nation? Don’t Jews have a right to national liberation? Shouldn’t we use a vocabulary that registers and resonates with the public conscience and the Jewish conscience, winning over the decent many while isolating the diehard few? Shouldn’t we instead be asking, Are you for or against ethnic cleansing, for or against torture, for or against house demolitions, for or against Jews-only roads and Jews-only settlements, for or against discriminatory laws? And if the answer comes, against, against and against, shouldn’t we then say, Keep your ideology, whatever it might be—there’s room for everyone at the rendezvous of victory?
—Norman Finkelstein, “Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict: What We Can Learn from Gandhi”  


[Why the U.S. resort to propaganda?] There are two basic reasons.  The first is that reality is unpleasant to face, and it is therefore more convenient, both for planners and for the educated classes who are responsible for ideological control, to construct a world of fable and fantasy while they proceed with their necessary chores.  The second is that elite groups are afraid of the population.  They are afraid that people are not gangsters.  They know that the people they address would not steal food from a starving child if they knew that no one was looking and they could get away with it, and that they would not torture and murder in pursuit of personal gain merely on the grounds that they are too powerful to suffer retaliation for their crimes.  If the people they address were to learn the truth abut the actions they support or passively tolerate, they would not permit them to proceed.  Therefore, we must live in a world of lies and fantasies, under the Orwellian principle that Ignorance is Strength.
—Noam Chomsky, Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America & The Struggle for Peace 

Victorious without Vanquishing

Norman Finkelstein, What Gandhi Says About Nonviolence, Resistance, and Courage
OR Books, 2012

Norman Finkelstein is working on a new book on the subject of “cancel culture.” Long before the phrase attained recent prominence, Finkelstein himself was “cancelled.”  I was reminded of this when listening earlier today to a lively dialogue with members of This Is Revolution podcast with Norm, and I thought back to his own treatment of Gandhi.   Some might champion cancelling the “Mahatma” because of one or another moral failing. Yet in his book, Norm exemplifies both a healthy critical and appreciative engagement with the Indian proponent of satyagraha.   Read the rest of this entry »


If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 


In [Marcel Proust’s] work we come across an absolute absence of bias, a willingness to know and to understand as many opposing states of the human soul as possible, a capacity for discovering in the lowest sort of man such nobility as to appear sublime, and in the seemingly purest of beings, the basest instincts. His work acts on us like life, filtered and illuminated by a consciousness whose soundness is infinitely greater than our own.
—Josef Czapski, Lost Time: Lectures on Proust in a Soviet Prison Camp


Two things fill the mind with every new and increasing wonder and awe, the oftener and the more steadily I reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not merely conjecture them and seek them as if they were obscured in darkness or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon: I see them before me, and I connect them directly with the consciousness of my own existence. The starry heavens begin at the place I occupy in the external world of sense, and they broaden the connection in which I stand into an unbounded magnitude of worlds beyond worlds and systems of systems and into the limitless times of their periodic motion, their beginning and duration. The latter begins at my invisible self, my personality, and exhibits me in a world which has true infinity but which only the understanding can trace – a world in which I recognise myself as existing in a universal and necessary ( and not, as in the first case, only contingent) connection, and thereby also in connection with all those visible worlds. The former view of a countless multitude of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as an ‘animal creature’ which must give back to the planet (a mere speck in the universe) the matter from which it came, matter which is for a little time endowed with vital force, we know not how. The latter, on the contrary, infinitely raises my worth as that of an ‘intelligence’ by my being a person in whom the moral law reveals to me a life independent of all animality and even of the whole world of sense, at least so far as it may be inferred from the final destination assigned to my existence by this law, a destination which is not restricted to the conditions and boundaries of this life but reaches into the infinite.
—Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason    


If you are a poet, you will see that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. The logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. Looking ever more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here – time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is. Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper will be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper” elements. And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non-paper elements, like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.
—Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding   

This Week’s Reading

Lahiri, Mandelstam, Weil





think  the great problem is the whole issue of national identity, or what I would call the politics of identity—the feeling that everything you do has to be either legitimated by, or has to pass through the filter of, your national identity, which in most cases is  complete fiction, as we all know. I mean, an identity that says all Arabs are homogeneously the same and against all Westerners who are all the same. There are many Westerners, there are many Arabs. I think the principal role of the intellectual at this point is to break up these large, national, cultural, transcultural identities…. There has to be an understanding, finally, that there is no political or national grouping that is homogenous. Everything we are talking about is mixed, we deal in world of interdependent, mongrelized societies. They are hybrids, they are impure.
—Edward W. Said, Power, Politics, and Culture: Interviews  


Storytelling makes the world stronger because stories reveal the complexity of our truth.  By telling our stories, we resist the diminishing of the reality of our lives. We resist vague and generalized abstractions and we maintain the urgency and intensity of the concrete. And so I share with you something of my story in the hopes of revealing the complexity of our truth.
—Jean Zaru, Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks  

Poets to (Re)Read

Never Undemanding of Ourselves

John Garrard and Carol Garrard, The Bones of Berdichev:  The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman
Wednesday 1 August 2012

Vasily Grossman represents an inspiring figure of engagement, and old fashioned Russian insistence on telling the truth and standing for justice.  He had his flaws and his guilt to overcome, for his younger years when he was playing it safe, and going along.

And then there is the Nazi barbarism against the Jews, the Ukrainian collaboration against the Jews, and the Soviet anti-Semitic policies.  Grossman discovered his Jewishness, “thanks to” the Nazis and Soviets.  Raised on the European and humanist classics, he had thought of himself as a Russian.   

Here’s the Russian (Jewish?) fervent belief in the power of the word: Life and Fate was to be imprisoned for 250 years, it was so dangerous to the state.  A literary dissident, Grossman sends me back to War and Peace, not a book to read, but one to meditate on, as he evidently did during the street-fighting in the battle at Stalingrad. Read the rest of this entry »