Hold It All

Philosophy/Poetics/Politics

Category: Wisdom Traditions

The Good News of a Sangha, 3.25.2017

Five years ago today, Jenn Reyes Lay and I started a  St. Louis sangha in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh.   Annie Fitzgerald offered Sophia House  on Gibson Avenue for our first gathering. Many wonderful people have shared the fruits of their practice with us during these 60 months: sitting, walking, singing, reciting the precepts, slowing down, studying the Heart and Diamond Sutras,  offering retreats  in the country, and facilitating mindful dinners.

As poet Diane di Prima wrote in her poem Life Chant, May it continue!

 

The Good News of a Single Blueberry, 3.19.2017

Almost five years ago, Erin Szopiak organized a mindful dinner for some of our friends: Everything for the menu had been grown locally, several of us helped prepare the meal in the King’s spacious kitchen, we savored most of the meal in calm silence, and, for dessert, Erin offered each of us a single blueberry, which we were to appreciate slowly, involving our sight, smell, touch, and taste.  Erin invited us to the wonder of the here and now!

The Good News of Translation, 3.17.2017

Opera excepted, I never asked myself, in those early years of reading literature in translation, what I was missing. It was as if I felt it were my job, as a passionate reader, to see through the faults or limitations of a translation–as one sees through (or looks past) the scratches on a bad print of a beloved old film one is seeing once again. Translations were a gift, for which I would always be grateful. What–rather, who–would I be without Dostoevsky and Tolstoy and Chekhov?

–Susan Sontag, At the Same Time: Essays & Speeches

 

What Jarvis Learned

At a recent gathering of the Saint Louis Mindfulness Sangha, I shared the following excerpt from Pema Chödrön’s book, Go to the Places That Scare You…

The second of the three lords of materialism is the lord of speech. This lord represents how we use beliefs of all kinds to give us the illusion of certainty about the nature of reality. Any of the “isms”–political, ecological, philosophical, or spiritual–can be misused in this way.  “Political correctness” is a good example of how this lord operates. When we believe in the correctness of our view, we can be very narrow-minded and prejudiced about the faults of other people.

For example, how do I react when my beliefs about the government are challenged? How about when others don’t agree with how I feel about homosexuality or women’s rights or the environment? What happens when my ideas about smoking or drinking are challenged? What do I do when my religious convictions are not shared? Read the rest of this entry »

On Hope and Expectation

Hope itself is a species of happiness, and perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords:  but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment.  If it be asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly answer, that it is such expectation  as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an expectation that requires the  common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.

–Samuel Johnson, in Boswell’s Life 

How To Practice Buddhism in a Nation Perpetually at War

First, deal with your koan:
“Do not kill.
Do not let others kill.
Find whatever means possible
to protect life and prevent war.”

Second, deepen your breathing.

Third, most importantly, build the sangha based on the above.

–from novel-in-process, Our Heroic and Ceaseless 24/7 Struggle against Tsuris

Good News Variations: A Spring Writing Course 2017

Since mid-November, I’ve had exchanges with numerous  people who were consumed with dread at so much bad news in the news.   One afternoon, while walking in the Central West End, I was reminded of a poem by Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh that begins:  “The good news they do not print. The good news we do print. We have a special edition every moment, and we need you to read it.”   It occurred to me then that  a gathering of friends focused on these “special editions” would be a constructive use of time and energy.

This spring, join us to read, write, and circulate good news. Each week I will provide short, succinct reflections—from poets, activists, teachers, contemplatives, artists — on this theme and its variations, and we will together come up with writing topics to explore. Each session will provide  time for individual writing, paired exchanges, and a group forum. We will also have a course blog where we can post our writings and discover what others see as good news.

We meet eight consecutive Wednesdays, from March 8 to April 26, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 at New City School (5209 Waterman Boulevard 63109). Chris Wallach is hosting us in her first-grade classroom, and the school library may also be an option.  Tuition is $160. Read the rest of this entry »

From Thirty Years Ago: Thich Nhat Hanh

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 »

On the Street Meditation

The swami told me to make japam while I walked and to give everybody I met on a street a mental blessing. You weren’t to think of yourself with a feeling of superiority, as a holy man blessing worldlings; you were simply saluting the Atman within each fellow human being.

— Christopher Isherwood, My Guru and His Disciple

homeless-man-please-help
NYC; photo by Mev Puleo

Japam=repetition of the mantra

From Thich Nhat Hanh’s First Book Published in the USA, 1967

The more American troops sent to Vietnam, the more the anti-American campaign led by the NLF becomes successful. Anger and hatred rise in the hearts of the peasants as they see their villages burned, their compatriots killed, their houses destroyed. Pictures showing NLF soldiers with arms tied, followed by American soldiers holding guns with bayonets, make people think of the Indochina war between the French and the Viet Minh and cause pain even to the anti-Communist Vietnamese.

lotus-in-a-sea-of-fire-cover