Hold It All

Category: Wisdom Traditions

A Call to Life and Deeds: Goethe’s Maxims

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections  
Translated by Elisabeth Stopp; edited with an introduction and notes by Peter Hutchinson; Penguin Books, 1998

I’ve been reading Pierre Hadot’s 2008 book, N’oublie pas de vivre: Goethe et la tradition des exercises spirituels, which sent me back to Goethe’s works.   The following are some of the maxims I noted in my reading of this book back in 2006…

‘Nothing should be treasured more highly than the value of the day.’ [789]

Anyone who doesn’t know foreign languages knows nothing of his own. [91]

If our teaching in schools always continues to point to Antiquity and promotes the teaching of the Greek and Latin languages, we can congratulate ourselves that these studies, so essential for any higher culture, will never suffer decline. [659]

May the study of Greek and Roman literature ever remain the basis of higher education!  [762]

A German should learn all languages so that no foreigner could discomfort him at home and he himself could be at home everywhere when abroad. [978] Read the rest of this entry »

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Facing the Burden of History

Dorothee Sölle, The Arms Race Kills even without War

This is a short collection of talks (rallies, radio programs) mostly given to German audiences in the days when West Germany still existed. The context for much of these—early 80s—is NATO, the Reagan arms build-up, and the re-activated European (and American—“there are two Americas” is a refrain) peace movement. Later on, her work would peer into the abyss that was Central America, compliments of the Reagan administration.

The following are worth my attention—

How to be a Christian is something you do not learn from books or information packets, but primarily from other human beings. 39

Nothing brings my own aging home to me as clearly as the impossibility of passing on to my children the meaning of Auschwitz for my generation. 14

To pray means to collect ourselves, to reflect, to gain clarity about our direction in life, about our goals for living. It means to remember and in that to achieve  a likeness with God, to envision what we seek for ourselves and for our children, to give voice to that vision loudly and softly, together and alone, and thus to become more and more the people we were intended to be. 23 Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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 »