Hold It All

Category: Wisdom Traditions

Making the World Bearable: A Reading/Writing Class on Diane di Prima—Fall 2018

Feeling a need to be inspired in these dismal times?
Been burnt out with academic writing that doesn’t originate in your soul?
Seeking a community of comrades to inspire, console, and rouse you?
Wanting to dive deep within and seek connections locally, nationally, and globally?

Then join us in exploring the vision, work and life of Diane di Prima—poet, Buddhist, Italian-American, feminist, pacifist.

One Saturday morning, while writing a letter to one of my favorite poets (Lindsey Trout Hughes, who lives in Brooklyn), it dawned on me that I wanted my next writing/reading class to focus on Diane, whom Allen Ginsberg described like this: “Diane di Prima, revolutionary activist of the 1960s Beat literary renaissance, heroic in life and poetics: a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes. … She broke barriers of race-class identity, delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity.”

In Saint Louis, we’ll gather on Sundays at 2 p.m. beginning October 28 and go till December 16. We’ll meet in different cafes and people’s homes (if people are up for that). Each session will go for 90 minutes, allowing ample time for reading, writing, and sharing. Read the rest of this entry »

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Making It Be  Spring with Everything

Burton Watson, Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, Columbia University Press, 1996

Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn’t know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

Do not be an embodier of fame; do not be a storehouse of schemes; do not be an undertaker of projects; do not be a proprietor of wisdom. Embody to the fullest what has no end and wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from heaven but do not think you have gotten anything. Be empty, that is all. The Perfect Man uses his mind like a mirror—going after nothing, welcoming nothing, responding but not storing. Therefore he can win out over things and not hurt himself.

Artisan Ch’ui could draw as true as a compass or a T square because his fingers changed along with things and he didn’t let his mind get in the way. Therefore his Spirit Tower remained unified and unobstructed.  You forget your feet when the shoes are comfortable. You forget your waist when the belt is comfortable. Understanding forgets right and wrong when the mind is comfortable. There is no change in what is inside, no following what is outside, when the adjustment to events is comfortable. You begin with what is comfortable and never experience what is uncomfortable when you know the comfort of forgetting what is comfortable.

___________________

What good medicine  Chuang Tzu is for me, with all my scheming,  planning, exerting, desiring and grasping after!  He’s the chill sage on the  Via Negativa: letting go and letting be, as in the following passages: Read the rest of this entry »

“Renounce and Enjoy”

Mohandas Gandhi used the Bhagavad Gita as his go-to source for dealing with life’s daily problems and issues.  A short book of 700 verses, the Gita grounded and inspired Gandhi throughout his life.  Like other  Indians of  spiritual stature, he even wrote a commentary on the classic text in the 1920s.

I recently read Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda’s translation,  Bhagavad Gita:  The Song of God. Having once worked at a Jesuit university, I was intrigued by the Gita’s insistence on matters relating to action, which may strike some people as peculiar, if not terribly wrong-headed. Read the rest of this entry »

Reading of Dorothy’s Reading

The Dorothy Day Book, compiled by Margaret Quigley and Michael Garvey,  is a  kind of posthumous commonplace book, that is, a collection of quotations from Dorothy’s decades of reading (largely from her column in the Catholic Worker), interspersed with some of her own commentaries on her life.  

As this slim volume attests, she was a voracious and vivacious reader, culling wisdom, aperçus, exhortations, and epigrams from saints (Gertrude,  Teresa of  Avila, Maximilian Kolbe),  rabbis (A.J. Heschel), popes (Leo XIII, Pius XI, John XXIII), sages (R.W. Emerson and H.D. Thoreau), novelists (Upton Sinclair, George Orwell, Leo Tolstoy, Henry Miller), activists (Danilo Dolci, Mohandas Gandhi, A.J. Muste), literary critics (Raymond Williams), philosophers (Immanuel Kant, Simone Weil, Herbert Marcuse), monks (Roger of Taize, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh), poets (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, W. H. Auden), prophets (Isaiah), theologians (Teilhard de Chardin, Johannes Baptist Metz), even university presidents (Theodore Hesburgh), to name but some of those cited in these pages.  The entries reveal Dorothy’s preoccupations with property and poverty, war and peace, patriotism and idolatry, service and self-purification.  She read newspapers and the Book of Common prayer,  classic novels and the lives of the saints, social criticism and spiritual testimonies.  Her practice of reading was a decades-long, spirited  clarification of thought.

In their introduction, the editors quote  Dorothy’s view of reading:  “The books will always be there.  If we give up many other distractions, we can turn to them.  We can browse among the millions of words written and often just what we find can nourish us, enlighten us, strengthen us — in fact, be our food just as Christ, The Word, is also our food.”

Here is what I’ve culled from her culling and own writing … Read the rest of this entry »

Where the Tortured and the Torturer Shook Hands

How many of our most famous novelists, for instance, have bothered to take the two-and-a-half hour flight from Miami and see for themselves what’s going on here?
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 

I first read Seven Days in Nicaragua Libre in the mid-eighties; Ferlinghetti and I had both visited Nicaragua in 1984 (I on a Kentucky Witness for Peace delegation). I looked at the book again ten years ago, when Becca Gorley and I were reading from the City Lights Pocket Poets series. At that time, I was, still, trying to write something about our times in the West Bank and Gaza, and Ferlinghetti’s account was one of several books I read for provocation and inspiration. Many things, you can’t force; Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine was self-published in summer 2015.

A man of the Left, Ferlinghetti saw Nicaraguan history this way: “What has happened here, rather, is the overthrow of a tyrant (Somoza) supported by the U.S., and the attempt to overthrow the economic tyrant of colonialism in which Latin America has been for centuries the cheap labor market for North American and multinational business.” Many U.S. citizens may suffer amnesia about this appalling history but Latin Americans have a long memory. Read the rest of this entry »

A Ramadan Sonnet by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore

for Sharifa Barakat

Headache, the invalid feeling of being sickly and having to
take it easy, testiness when
things don’t go quite
right, annoyance of magnetic
gravity, things
fall in a pile or
slide off an incline – not the

hunger alone that binds us in brotherhood ultimately with
hollow-eyed Ethiopians of
this and all other eras,
but the frailty, the passing alone down the
alien corridors of this world that is such a
poignant reminder to us, so that in our
momentary physiological grayness Read the rest of this entry »

Three Questions

Gregg Krech, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace,  and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection (Stone Bridge Press, 2001)

I learned of Naikan through consulting the bibliography of Patricia Ryan Madson’s book, Improv Wisdom.  Therein, she cited books on Constructive Living by  David K. Reynolds, and Gregg Krech’s manual on this “Japanese art of self-reflection,” which was the brainchild of Ishin Yoshimoto.

On retreats in Japan, one is encouraged to answer three questions about the most important people in our lives, typically beginning with one’s mother:
What have I received from my mother?
What have I given my mother?
What troubles and difficulties have I caused my mother?
The aim is to be factual, detailed and specific as possible in addressing the questions. Read the rest of this entry »

“Why Must the Poet’s Mouth Be Bloodied, His Teeth Caved in?”

More than a decade ago, octogenarian  Jesuit felon Daniel Berrigan  spoke at the local Jesuit university (in the auditorium of the business school, no less).  During the Q & A, a friend of mine asked him this question, “Dan, what have you been reading these days?”  His response:  “The Gospels and the poets.” Read the rest of this entry »

Everything Is a Gift by Jennifer Vanbooven

Jennifer Vanbooven is in my Comparative Religion and Culture class, and wrote this response to the documentary, Walk with Me, about life at Plum Village.  I am happy to share it here.

Kaley and I watched a movie called Walk with Me on Netflix. Walk with Me is a religious documentary that was released in 2017, so fairly recent, that provides an insightful glimpse into a monastic community that practices the art of mindfulness alongside the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. The Buddhists involved in this community have given up all of their possessions and wholesomely committed themselves to a life of celibacy; their ultimate goals in becoming members of this Buddhist circle are to transform their sufferings. The film captures the day to day routines of monastic life and mindfulness exercises while also demonstrating the influences such a life has on the individual monks. Overall, watching the movie gave me some fresh and positive outlooks on the Buddhist way of life and motivation to incorporate certain mindfulness practices into my own life. Read the rest of this entry »

Occasional Moments of Peace, Gratitude, and Delight

I first learned of Gary Snyder through Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums, where he was fictionalized as “Japhy Ryder,”   who, according to Alvah Goldbook [aka Allen Ginsberg], was  “a great new hero of American culture.”  Snyder’s Back on the Fire: Essays jazzed me many times, a sample of which follows…

This Sierra ecosystem has been fire-adapted for millions of years, and fire can be our ally. 14

Biodiversity… only means variety of life, and it means “Right to Life for Nonhuman Others,” a moral sentiment I religiously support. 16

What we refer to as nature or the “environment” or the wild world is our endangered habitat and home, and we are its problem species. 24

We study the great writings of the Asian past so that we might surpass them today. We hope to create a deeply grounded contemporary literature of nature that celebrates the wonder of our natural world, that draws on and makes beauty of the incredibly rich knowledge gained from science, and that confronts the terrible damage being done today in the name of progress and the world economy. 30

We must work on a really long time frame. 40

… the most important single ethical teaching of the Buddhist tradition is nonviolence toward all of nature, ahimsa… 52 Read the rest of this entry »