Hold It All

Category: Wisdom Traditions

Share the Wealth with Matthew Miller: Rumi, Sufi Path of Love, and the Politics of “Mysticism”

Matthew Miller will lead us in a wide ranging discussion about Persian Sufi poetry. He will touch on the problems with many popular translations of Rumi and explore the “Sufi path of love” by introducing us to a few new Sufi poets who have not received as much popular acclaim in the “West.” Laced throughout this discussion will be a consideration of how the “mystical” and political are intertwined in both liberatory and oppressive ways.

Matthew Miller grew up in Cincinnati, OH, spent many, many years in school in St. Louis at Washington University, and current lives in Washington, DC. His day job is as an assistant professor of Persian literature and digital humanities at the University of Maryland, College Park. In his free time he tries to be a social justice activist and urban farmer, too.

Join us
Sunday 31 May
7:00 p.m C.S.T.
Via Zoom
Email me for URL
Markjchmiel@gmail.com

Drs. Matt Miller, Nima Sheth; Neil Munjal; photo by Dr. Neeta Shenai

Share the Wealth with Sari Althubyani: Ramadan Kareem

Sari will share with us his various experiences of Ramadan, from his homeland in Saudi Arabia to United States in these last few years. Bring your questions or share your own experience of this time of spiritual strengthening, Qur’an reading, and communal solidarity.

Sari will be a senior at Maryville University this fall; among his passions are automobiles and deep sea diving.

Join us
Sunday 24 May
7:00 p.m C.S.T.
Via Zoom
Email me for URL
Markjchmiel@gmail.com

 

Reminder to Self

When you encounter those who are wicked, unrighteous, foolish, dim-witted, deformed, vicious, chronically ill, lonely, unfortunate, or handicapped, you should think: “How can I save them?” And even if there is nothing you can do, at least you must not indulge in feelings of arrogance, superiority, derision, scorn, or abhorrence, but you should immediately manifest sympathy and compassion. If you fail to do so, you should feel ashamed and deeply reproach yourself: “How far I have strayed from the Way! How can I betray the old sages?” I take these words as an admonition to myself.

Ryōkan-san

Share the Wealth with Natalie Long… Agrarianism, the Divine, and the Presence of Absence: Reflections on a Trip to Poland

We are living in historic times. The pandemic afflicting the human species is not only a test of the resiliency of people around the world, but also an invitation to examine the insufficiency of existing systems, institutions, and norms that govern human behavior. As I wrestle with understanding the rapidly changing conditions that continue to evolve, I also find myself consumed with a search to understand how human societies must change – often paradigmatically – so as to create worlds that halt destructive behaviors and promote harmonious existence with life in all its forms.

In May 2019, I visited a dear friend who is a professor in Warsaw, Poland. My trip lasted just a bit over two weeks; but, in that short time span, I came away with a handful of rich experiences that continue to generate reflections about how a society chooses, and/or is forced, to organize itself. While reflecting on my trip, three overriding themes emerge that appear present in the Polish population: (i) an ethos of agrarianism; (ii) a pervasive spiritual practice; and (iii) the presence of absence and/or an intimate experience of catastrophe.

My modest goal for this Share the Wealth is to share a few stories from my time in Poland that highlight those themes, with the hope that we might generate a space to imagine briefly how we might change our world, before it is changed for us.
Read the rest of this entry »

After Sanders Makes His Endorsement, I Turn to Some Great Reminderers

Those who live by compassion are often canonized.  Those who live by justice are often crucified.  –John Dominic Crossan, Scripture Scholar, USA

Don’t mourn. Organize. –Mother Jones, labor activist, USA

The madness of violence must be recognized, its causes removed, and its implements destroyed. But how can it be done? It can be done by one means only: the manifestation of a better spirit. It is a change of character and conduct through a change of ideas, reason, and good will – these are the only agencies in a civilized age for effecting such changes. – Mohandas Gandhi, lawyer, India

The blood is so much, you know, it runs in rivers. It dries up too; it cakes all over me; sometimes I feel that there is not enough soap in the whole world to cleanse me from the things that I did do in your name. –Davison Budhoo, from his resignation letter to the International Monetary Fund

Responsibility for the poor, exterior to the system, exposes the just person to retaliation by the system, which feels under attack because of its dysfunctionality, openness, and exposure.  For this reason, with inexorable logic the totality persecutes those who in their responsibility for the oppressed testify to the necessity for a new order.  Responsibility is obsession for the other; it is linkage with the other’s exteriority; it entails exposing oneself to traumatization, prison, even death. –Enrique Dussel, philosopher, Argentina & Mexico Read the rest of this entry »

Conscience Thunders

for Matt Miller

 

Taylor Branch, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968
Simon and Schuster, 2006

The following are passages from this third volume of a gripping, recent history of the US.

America’s Founders centered political responsibility in the citizens themselves, but, nearly two centuries later, no one expected a largely invisible and dependent racial minority to ignite protests of steadfast courage—boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, jail marches—dramatized by stunning forbearance and equilibrium into the jaws of hatred. xi

Marchers stand here on the brink of violent suppression in their first attempt to cross Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, after which thousands of ordinary Americans will answer King’s overnight call for a nonviolent pilgrimage to Selma. Three of them will be murdered, but the quest to march beyond Pettus Bridge will release waves of political energy from the nucleus of human freedom. The movement will transform national politics to win the vote. Selma will engage the world’s conscience, strain the embattled civil rights coalition, and embroil King in negotiations with all three branches of the United States government. It will revive the visionary pragmatism of the American Revolution. xiii

MLK: “Well, I’m gonna put out a call for help.” 57

MLK: “I say to you this afternoon that I would rather die on the highways of Alabama than make a butchery of my conscience…. If you can’t accept blows without retaliating, don’t get in the line.” 74-75

Mother Pollard: “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” 107
Read the rest of this entry »

Making the Best of Tough Situations

Three summers ago, some friends came to our Chouteau home for two months of Wednesday evenings to reflect on Thich Nhat Hanh’s autobiography, At Home in the World. Just today a chapter from that book came back to me, and I am happy to share it here.

I know a Buddhist nun who had graduated from Indiana University in the US and who was practicing in Vietnam. She was arrested by the police and put into prison because of her actions for peace and reconciliation. She tried her best to practice in her prison cell. It was difficult, because during the daytime if they saw her practice sitting meditation in her cell, they considered it an act of provocation and defiance to be sitting like that, experiencing peace. So they forbade her from sitting in meditation. She would have to wait until they turned off the light in order to sit up and practice. They tried to steal from her even the opportunity to practice. Yet she was able to continue. She did walking meditation, although the space she had was very small. She was also able to talk with kindness and gentleness to the people who were locked in the same cell. Thanks to her practice, she was able to hep them suffer less.

I have another Vietnamese friend who was put into a “re-education” camp in North Vietnam, in a remote jungle area. During his four years there, he practiced meditation and was able to live in peace. By the time he was released, his mind was as sharp as a sword. He knew that he had not lost anything during those four years. On the contrary, he knew he had “re-educated himself in meditation.”

Many things can be taken from us, but no one can ever steal our determination or our freedom. No one can ever steal our practice. Even in extreme cases, it is possible to maintain our happiness, our peace, and our inner freedom. As long as we are able to breathe and walk and smile, we can be at peace, and we can be happy.

–from the chapter, “Prisoner of Conscience,” page 74.

 


Ayesha and Ashaki enjoying the present moment, summer 2017.

The Path of Sympathy in a Time of Plague

Tarrou was swinging his leg, tapping he terrace lightly with his heel, as he concluded. After a short silence the doctor raised himself a little in his chair and asked if Tarrou had an idea of the path to follow for attaining peace.  “Yes,” he replied. “The path of sympathy.” Albert Camus, The Plague, 225

 

The best part of Camus’s novel is the theme of commitment.  In a time when there is plague (HIV/AIDS, empire, military occupation, to name three contemporary plagues people suffer from), what options do people exercise?  Tarrou, Rieux, Grand, and eventually Rambert all take in one way or another “the path of sympathy,” the way of “comprehension,” which is Tarrou’s word for his code of morals.

Tarrou, who wanted to be a saint without God, is a hero, even with all his contradictions (and don’t we all have our own?):  he looks unflinchingly at the plague and works to combat it, and risks his life. Ultimately, he dies. He is like Rachel Corrie: This must stop – but he couldn’t stop the plague, he could only accompany the victims.  And not be condemning or judgmental.  

And what is true religiosity in a time of plague? It is praxis, it is the path of sympathy, and you can take the dogmas, doctrines, and rituals—who needs them? It is Yitz Greenberg’s anguished cri de coeur: No theology talk is credible; pull the children out of the burning pits!

This means knowing that children are being burned alive (recall Steiner’s  refusal to sit still). This means going near to where the children are, you’ve got to see it.  And then doing something.  But we keep our distance; we offer solidarity from afar, which alas isn’t much. Or is it? I myself said that “the real work” on behalf of Palestine was back in the US, what were we really doing to fight the plague there, in Gaza? It may have seemed heroic and risky from the stateside perspective. But I was convinced that we have more to contribute here, working to cut off the source of the funding and ideological support for the occupation, than doing accompaniment work.  But it’s ambos: Both/and: I had that opportunity then, I have this opportunity now, to be vigilant.  Here’s Rieux’s critique of distance:  “…sometimes at midnight, in the great silence of the sleep-bound  town, the doctor turned on his wireless before going to bed for the few hours’ sleep he allowed himself. And from the ends of the earth, across thousands of miles of land and sea, kindly, well-meaning speakers tried to voice their fellow-feeling, and indeed did so, but at the same time proved the utter incapacity of every man truly to share in suffering which he cannot see. ‘Oran! Oran!’ In vain the call rang over oceans, in vain Rieux listened hopefully; always the tide of eloquence began to flow, bringing home still more the unbridgeable gulf that lay between Grand and the speaker. ‘Oran, we’re with you!’ they called emotionally. But not, the doctor told himself, to love or to die together—and that’s the only way. They’re too remote.” [124] Read the rest of this entry »

“You Are That Person”

A student asked Soen Nakagawa
During a meditation retreat:
“I am very discouraged. What should I do?”
Soen replied, “Encourage others.”

At the beginning of this year, I read Kazuaki Tanahashi’s autobiography, Painting Peace: Art in a Time of Global Crisis. He dedicated it to his dharma sister Mayumi Oda. Recently, I’ve read her books, and the experience reminded me of first becoming acquainted with her in the late 1980s and early 90s. Parallax Press out of Berkeley had begun publishing works by Thich Nhat Hanh such as Being Peace, Touching Peace, and Interbeing; Mayumi contributed her drawings to these now classic books.

Given the tsuris [Yiddish, translated by Allen Ginsberg as “serious difficulty”] in recent weeks, I returned to Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace in search of a passage I read decades ago. It’s from a talk he gave to peace activists and meditators, and while the issues and references of the mid-80s may seem distant to us, I hope his words speak to your heart….

“Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help. Read the rest of this entry »

There and Then, Here and Now

A lady: Yes, that’s just like what goes on nowadays, and it’s because anyone that is struggling for the liberation of the oppressed, he himself is a Christ, and then here’s a Herod, and what we’re seeing is the living story of the life of Jesus. And more heroes will come along, because wherever there’s someone struggling for liberation there’s someone who wants to kill him, and if they can kill him they will…. it’s perfectly clear that the business of Herod and Christ, we have it right here.

–Ernesto Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname

 

Ernesto Cardenal, 1925-2020