from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Coming to Our Senses 

It may be when we no longer know what to do,
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go,
we have begun our real journey.

Wendell Berry

That is the Epigram with which Jon Kabat-Zinn opens his latest book: Coming to Our Senses: Healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness

I have just begun the book. There are a few passages I’d like to share. But before I do, let me share a quote he offers from Albert Einstein:
The problems that exist in the word today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.

I don ‘t propose to preach. And I will offer little commentary of my own. I have chosen several passages near the beginning of the book that I think are worth pondering, whether you encounter this in a political context, a more spiritual context, or elsewhere. Make of it what you will.

We know that the twentieth century saw more organized killing in the name of peace and tranquility and the end of war than all the centuries past combined, the vast majority of it erupting, ironically perhaps, in the great centers of learning and magnificent culture at are Europe and the Far East. And the twenty-first century is following on apace, if in a different bu equally, if not more, disturbing mode. Whoever the protagonists, and whatever the rhetoric and the particular issues of contention, wars, including covert wars and wars against terror, are always put forth in the name of the highest and most compelling of purposes and principle by all sides. They always lead to murderous bloodletting that in the end, even when apparently unavoidable, harms both victims and perpetrators. And they are always cause by disturbances in the human mind. Engaging in harming others to resolve disputes that could be better resolved in other, more imaginative ways, also blinds us to the ways in which war and violence are themselves symptoms of the auto-immune disease from which our species seems to uniquely and collectively suffer. It blinds us as well to other ways available to us to restore harmony and balance when they are disrupted by the very real, very dangerous,even virulent forces that we may unwittingly be helping to feed and expand, even as we abhor them and vigorously resist and combat them.

Here my comment is that these remarks can also be seen as a cautionary on how we approach politics.

An auto-immune disease is really the body’s own self-sensing, surveillance, and security system, the immune system, gone amok, attacking its own cells and tissues, attacking itself. No body and no body politic can thrive for long under such conditions, with one part of itself warring on another, no matter how healthy and vibrant it may be in other ways. Nor can any country thrive for long in the world with a foreign policy define to a large extent by allergic reaction, one manifestation of a disregulated immune system, nor on the excuse, true as it may be, that we are collectively suffering from severe post-traumatic stress, a condition that may only make it easier for either well-meaning or cynical leaders to exploit for purposes that have little or nothing to do with healing or with true security.

I think the foregoing speaks rather clearly, don’t you?

The next passage caught my attention as a teacher who believes in individualizing how we educate each child, but it applies more widely as well:
The world needs all its flowers, just as they are, and even though they bloom for only the briefest of moments, which we call a lifetime. It is our job to find out one by one and collectively what kind of flowers we are, and to share our unique beauty with the world in the precious time that we have, and to leave the children and grandchildren a legacy of wisdom and compassion embodied in the way we live, in our institutions, and in our honoring of our interconnectedness, at home and around the world. Why not risk standing firmly for sanity in our lives and in our world, the inner and the outer a reflection of each other and of our genius as a species?
The creative and imaginative efforts and actions of every one of us count, and nothing less than the health of the world hangs in the balance. We could say that the world is literally and metaphorically dying for us as a species to come to our senses, and now is the time. Now is the time for us to wake up to the fullness of our beauty, to get on with and amplify the work of healing ourselves, our societies, and then planet, building on everything worthy that has come before and that is flowering now. No intention is too small and no effort insignificant. Every step along the way counts. And, as you will see, every single one of us counts.

I found the next spoke directly to me, as so often I overburdened myself with too many things to accomplish:
We have made absorption in the future and in the past such an overriding habit that, much of the time, we have no awareness of the present moment at all. As a consequence, we may feel we have very little, if any, control over the ups and downs of own lives and of our own minds.

Let me offer one more passage, one that builds on what I posted about yesterday. Rather than my explaining why I see a connection, I will let the words speak for themselves:
No one culture and no one art form has a monopoly on either truth or beauty, writ either large or small. . . .I find it is both useful and illuminating to draw upon the work of those special people on our planet who devote themselves to the language of the mind and heart that we call poetry. Our greatest poets engage in deep interior explorations of the mind and of words and of the intimate relationship between inner and outer landscapes, just as do the greatest yogi and teachers in the meditative traditions. In fact, it is not uncommon in the meditative traditions for moments of illumination and insight to be expressed through poetry. Both yogis and poets are intrepid explorers of what is so, and articulate guardians of the possible.

Perhaps what I have offered above will speak to you, perhaps not. If you have read this far I can at least hope that part of at least one of the foregoing passages will be of value.

Now excuse me, because I wish to go and ponder on these thoughts.
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