Monday, May 29, 2017

The Voice of the Other

I was listening to Krista Tippet's On Being radio show recently. She and her guest, Lyndsey Stonebridge, were talking about the writings and philosophy of Hannah Arendt. (here) Arendt had fled Germany at the beginning of World War II. Something that particularly struck me was Arendt's phrase "the banality of evil." The other phrase that stuck with me is that "modern totalitarianism is organized loneliness." 

For Arendt the banality of evil is the inability to hear another voice, the inability have a dialogue with yourself or the world. Does this inability come from fear? Does it come from loss of connections with ourselves, with others, with nature? 

I do see the sense of what Arendt said about modern totalitarianism. I see that those who would institute it today seem to be practicing what the Nazis did, what the totalitarian Soviet state did. That is creating divisions, creating fear of the other, and thus, the inability to have community and dialogue. Because if you can't trust others, then you have to rely solely on yourself, be mostly with only yourself - and possibly a few others. Hence, you are isolated.

One antidote, possibly, is remembering to have compassion for others. To have compassion, I think, requires that we slow down, that we pay attention. Having compassion can help us to have connection and to have an ability to hear that other voice.  At the same time, compassion for ourselves is equally important. 

I'm not sure that this make sense to others as to how they fit with this theme, but I want to share some poems that I feel are about hearing the voice of the other and refusing to be isolated - because it all comes down to the heart, to love and (at least in my mind) giving yourself permission to be fully who you are, fully in the world. 

Before All Else

Before all else
was love:

expressing itself
created what 
came after.

Be As a Lark Rising

Be as a lark—rising—
with wings spread wide
to meet the day, existence

flowing forward, upward
only ever in the now

in sun, in rain.


Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit, you are
the one that inhabits
the spaces between
the words, between people.
A manifestation of the creator,
you enliven all things.

You are the one, Holy Spirit,
that asks us to dance and
live fully in the world.
Help us, Holy Spirit,
to abide whole-heartedly
in the now, in the world.

One of my efforts, at this time, to refuse to be isolated, to hear the voice of the other is a Women's Wisdom Circle that I have started. The purpose is to lean in and support each other, to ignite the creative spark in each other. I also try to greet everyone at least politely, if not cheefully, and to look people in the eye. I keep on writing. 

Yes, I am trying to create connection. 

All poems: ©2017 Kathryn L. Samuelson
All images: Opening the Heart: Meditations on How to Be (here)

Monday, May 15, 2017

Collateral Beauty

I recently watched the movie Collateral Beauty. (You can read about it here, unless you don't want the plot line spoiled for you.) I thought it was as good rewatching it as watching it for the first time in the movie theater.

The title comes from something one of the characters says to another. The statement is essentially that, despite grief, you should continue to look for the collateral beauty. I understand this deeply. My parents died 7 and half days apart. I was the executor for both estates, which in some way delayed moving through grief for me. Yet, despite all this, I had moments of laughter, joy and happiness. I miss both my parents to this day; however, I haven't stopped looking for the collateral beauty in life.

I still try to look for the collateral beauty around me no matter my circumstances, the current political climate, or the global situation. I believe that it helps me cope. I believe that it helps me continue my work, my writing. Otherwise, I think I might be subject to despair. Despair would only get in my way, keep me from acting, from hopefully helping others through my work.

Flowers keep blooming. Waterfalls keep falling. Swans still swim. I am able to walk, talk, read, write, think for myself, and make my own decisions. The view out my study window is trees and a mountain. I can spend time contemplating the Conneticut River from a lovely park in my community. I see interesting lichens around. Ice formations in winter can be quite interesting and beautiful. The list of physical beauty most likely is endless.

But, most important, I have the beauty of relationships and family. Beauty is seemingly everywhere, and truthfully, it's not really collateral; it becomes collateral if I don't take the time to notice it. It is here. It is almost a living entity. I hope to continue to be able to see it, really see it, and to take it in. 

I hope that same for you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The More Beautiful World

The title of this post is the first part of a book title: The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible. Yes it is quite a mouthful. The idea for this post came to me when I was listening to Krista Tippet's Interview of Marie Howe on On Being (you can listen here). In this interview, Marie Howe talks about an assignment she gives her students. The assignment is to write 10 observations a week, without using metaphor. Just 10 "naked" observations. It can be an observations of an apple sitting on a table, for example. The point of the exercise, I think, is to really tune into the world around her students, to make them pay more attention to the world. 

I believe that when we do this we see the beauty, we see the connectedness of things. We can possibly find ways that are possible for us to take care of the world around us. The world, to me, includes not just the physical world, but ourselves, our family, our friends, our neighbors. After all, we are all part of the world, part of the earth. 

I also think that when we focus, when we breathe, we can see that there is much to be grateful for. lt can give us a way to see beyond the fear that is so pervasive, to keep hope alive, because, after all there is much beauty in the world, even if it is "just" an apple sitting on a table. 

An observation for today: There is a folding knitting basket sitting to the left of my computer desk. It contains knitting tools, boysenberry colored yarn, teal colored yarn, a darning egg. The basket has wooden handles and wooden cross supports. The handles have a diagonally cut circles incised into them. The fabric is beige with palm trees on it. Some of them a slightly darker color of beige, others are green and brown. 

It would most likely be impossible to pay that much attention to everything around us. In fact we apparently have a brain chemical that helps us filter out much of the stimuli coming in so that we are able to focus. But, taking time to make an observation like this can be a way to slow us down for a few moments, to make our "monkey minds", as meditators call it, slow down and let go. 

Let go and see.

Just a note: all the images today are from my book, Opening the Heart: Meditations on How to Be (here).

Monday, May 1, 2017

Crossing Thresholds

I recently read a piece that explained why we forget what we want to do when we go from one room to another. It's because we cross a threshold. I don't remember now where I read this or what the explanation for this phenomon is. I do remember thinking how interesting this is. (I do now wonder why people study these kinds of things.)

This has set me to thinking about thresholds. There are the ordinary door thresholds - even if they are painted red. Then there are the not so "ordinary" thresholds. First is conception and then birth. We cross from non-being into being with all that entails. This threshold is marked every year as a birthday, a change in age. Somehow various cultures decide that a certain age is a threshold, such as thirteen for bar or bat mitzvahs. In the US, sixteen for driving, eighteen for voting, and twenty-one for for being able to drink hard liquor. 

We mark the crossing of thresholds when someone graduates from school. When we retire from working. These are the ones that I can think of off-hand. I'm sure that you can point out more. Each of these are meant to mark a change in someone's life circumstances. 

The last threshold to be crossed is death. In American culture, the discussion of death is almost taboo. You don't talk about it in polite society. Some people don't want to make a will or create an estate plan because it means thinking and talking about death. 

Yet, in the work that I do, when someone asks about a deceased loved one, the answers almost always talk about the loved one was escorted across this threshold. I hope to hold onto that so that I don't fear the final threshold for this lifetime of mine. I want to be able to welcome crossing this last threshold.