Category Archives: Prose and Poetry

Between the Words and Me

IMG_0402I just read the New York Times review of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book, “Between the World and Me” and am struck by the response. The words in the review seem to be formed at some distance from the work itself.  I’m surprised because this isn’t the kind of book that requires you to step back so you can see more critically.  It’s a work that demands you step in close so you can see, as Naomi Shihab Nye has pointed out, the “words under the words.”  This would help in keeping one from writing about confusion in Coates’ use of the term “American Dream” or his “hazardous tendency to generalize” or describe his tone as “Manichaean.”  However, I can imagine the anxiety of facing the authenticity of Coates’ experience and feeling the need to turn to some old ways of responding.

I wonder what it would be like to take in Coates’ words in a different way.  Suppose as a first step, you could simply witness what is being said, without bringing in assumptions and judgments.  I suspect you might say, “How can a reviewer review if without judgment?”  Our minds are judging almost every moment of every day – the point is to be aware of the causes and conditions that allow them to arise.  So, set them aside and see the words; create space for listening with your whole body to the full experience before you.  Being open and accepting of what is presented in front of you leads past the line of defense that might arise.  Openness allows the value of the other’s words to land in you so that you can appreciate the other and tolerate a connection that may have a raw aliveness to it.

We who are not black, who didn’t grow up with that history rooted in our being, have never simply been able to witness the experience of those who have.  There is always the temptation to distance oneself, to shut down, to defend against, to smile like it’s really okay now or to attempt to identify with the person in front of you.  I suggest that none of these reactions are going to move us forward to a more just place.

What’s needed is to begin with offering yourself as an open and accepting witness.  Really listening to the person who has the courage and strength to speak or write his own truth opens the door to see that your own truth is reflected in the words under the words.  Appreciate that once spoken or written, listened to or read, these are the words that can carry all of us forward to the more just and equitable world that is possible.

Thank you Ta-Nehisi Coates for your strong and beautiful voice!

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Independence Day

 

 

Here we are today, celebrating our becoming Independent,

A country standing on its own two feet.

Not being ruled by another or told what to do, able to sort it out for ourselves.

Great! Wonderful!

Are we ready now to move on beyond adolescence to adulthood?

Or are we still so taken with this newfound freedom

(How old are we really?)

that we cannot recognize/appreciate the strength of connection?

We are a country made up of differences

Or so we think.

It’s the sameness actually

And our ability to see that in each other

That makes us truly independent!

 

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The Gift

I was hoping to give you a gift

I brought it home and tried it on myself

The sweetest part was holding the space

I only needed to be open

 

I brought it home and tried it on myself

It was a perfect fit

I only needed to be open

But allowing a passage through me to you

 

It was a perfect fit

It wasn’t about me giving it

But allowing a passage through me to you

It was about not holding on

It wasn’t about me giving it

The sweetest part was holding the space

It was about not holding on

I was hoping to give you a gift.

 

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Beginning Again

Beginning again is like getting up in the morning.  How does it feel, really, this waking up and beginning the day?  For me, it can be different today from yesterday or any day last week or last year.  I suspect there is some part of each of us that wishes for sameness in the sense of knowing what to expect.  Perhaps we needn’t know every aspect of this new day,  just enough to be reassured that we know what we’re doing – enough so that we can rely on past experience to provide us with confidence in stepping out.

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I have this sense of our bodies like trees with roots extending deep into the ground holding us firm and a trunk and branches reaching up and out to engage with whatever may come our way.  Not an unusual analogy, but if you consider it carefully, one that aptly captures the kind of balance that serves us best.  Some part grounded and some part flexible and free.  Might it be possible to wake up to a new day in this way – with both parts intact?

What gets in the way can be an imbalance – too much ground that turns into stuck-ness or too little so that what lies ahead has the potential to sweep us away.  At least this is how it can manifest when facing the new and unfamiliar, and isn’t that what “beginning again” is all about?  How to find the just right amount?

It may be also that the element of desire or motivation can be an important leveling factor.  If what lies ahead is something we want or is important to us, there can be more energy available for us in how we approach it.  If we are not so attached to it or ambivalent about what we are to do, there is less investment in getting out there to meet it.   I admit the tree metaphor doesn’t work so well here.  Trees undoubtedly don’t have the thoughts and emotions that influence us in our everyday living.  They simply have what they have and do what they do.

The question is how to rise confidently to meet a new day or begin a new project.  Instead of constructing multiple scenarios that may or may not actually happen, what would it be like to hold the present moment lightly as your feet touch the floor?  A more mindful approach allows more space for your energy to move closer to the side of excitement.  It creates an attitude of openness and a healthy intention as you face the day. Some mindful moments of meditation can assist in tapping into what’s there and seeing what you may need in order to regain your balance.  I know many feel this is what happens when you down that cup of coffee in the morning, but I’m talking about connecting with the more enduring energy that lives in each of us.   Isn’t this, after all, the force that allows us to continue to thrive?

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Being Horizontal

Lying down, thinking,

noticing what supports me

from underneath

I find myself checking in

with what it means

to be horizontal.

 

I could be sleeping,

flying in my dreams, or

meditating in savasana.

Being very still and

letting go.

 

I could be sick –

too sick or broken

to stand

lying horizontal in my room

or in the hospital

or in the nursing home.

 

I could be at the beach

lying in the sand

or floating horizontal

in between the waves.

 

But maybe what’s important

about being horizontal

is the support

I feel beneath me.

And that, being horizontal,

is just one of the ways

I get to be me.

 

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Stepping into Planet Politics…

After participating in the Pachamama Alliance Game Changer Intensive,

I asked myself this question…

 

Who am I now?

I am the same, at the core.

It’s my perspective that’s shifted

 

So that when the voice in my head says

Who do you think you are

Trying to change these things

You don’t know the language

You won’t be able to articulate the argument

You can’t compete with big money power

Who’s going to listen to you

These are not the skills you have

Your efforts will be like a drop in the bucket

 

I can center myself in the moment and

take a deep breath

and from this place

at the edge of my courage

 

Answer

I’m doing what needs to be done

I’m learning the language

It’s not a debate

Not a competition

Someone will listen because we are many in this together

developing new skills

filling thousands of buckets with our efforts.

 

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Taxi Ride

You can’t anticipate who or how the driver will be

Someone quiet or sullen

Someone doing his job

You might wonder if he sees you as the person you are

He may well be asking himself the same about you

Yet there you are, both

mostly focused on getting you where you’re going.

 

This trip the driver began talking as soon as he pulled into the roadway

Complaints about his boss, angry at him for some confusion

I didn’t hear the words so much as I noticed the energy in his voice

So I gathered myself, preparing to be witness to

a ride full of judgment and blame.

 

Then he commented on the ferry ride I was heading for

The energy shifted and lightened as I responded.

A door opened; he announced today was his birthday

I smiled and wished him well.

 

And in the next four minutes of conversation

I witnessed the man behind the wheel of this cab

The whole of his life

His aspirations and deep disappointments

Laid bare before a stranger

 

It was really a very short ride,

but it covered a long journey

One that I was privileged to glimpse

from the back seat of his car.

 

It was, in fact, the most privileged moment of my day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another Time

Help, away from here from where you are
never been to where you’re going to
free from earth, light and soaring
 
Pause.
and let the stillness bear you up
and down.
 
When I was young
lying in the grassy field
at times the same place where deer had lain the night before,
gazing at the sky
 
We told each other stories about the cloud people.
 
Without start or stop, 
we did not understand
the stories were about us.
Our dreamings, seemings,
spirited awakenings that led us 
more to wonder.
 
And in the end we left them
for a time
to sweeten, ripen, grow.
For longings carried with us need to be
reclaimed as much as do rememberings.
___________________________
This poem was written years ago and discovered recently tucked away in a book.
For the related story that emerged January 19, 2014, see
The Cloud People at www.amindfulife.com/the-cloud-people/

 

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Choosing

I lie here in bed reading, being inspired once again by the voice of Alice Walker.   I raise my left arm up, letting my hand descend to rest on my head.

A gesture of nonchalance you might think.

Apparently not,  as there in front of me hangs this wrinkled skin that is my forearm.   It didn’t used to be.

I put the book down and draw my fingers over the creases in my skin.  It feels so soft – not seductively soft – but soft like a form that had lost it’s inner structure.

I smile to myself and consider the choice to be made here.  I can focus on the loss of youth or the passing of middle age, or I can rejoice and feel gratitude for living today.

When I recall a time that I might have died some years ago, that choice is easy.

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Her Shaking Hands

She sat on the red vinyl covered chair in the corner of the kitchen.  She might have been talking with my mom, but as I recall she hardly ever said anything.  It would probably be more accurate to say that whatever she said didn’t interest me.   After all, I was very young, and she was very old.  What I do remember was how she would comment on how tall I had grown.  She referred to me as a “long, tall drink of water.”  I still don’t know what that means.

I guess most of the time I was passing through the room, not stopping unless interrupted by the adults.  Generally, I’d be on my way out the back door.  As I ran by I would catch glimpses of her gray hair, her eyeglasses, the wrinkled skin,  the inevitable flowered dress.  And both her hands resting in her lap, shaking.

I was young but not so young that I didn’t know that she had Parkinson’s disease.  That was why her hands shook.  There was a time that my mom gave her knitting needles and yarn thinking that knitting would calm the tremors.  Perhaps by then, the disease had progressed so that it took too much effort to work the needles.  Or maybe it was lack of motivation on her part.  Or maybe she was simply too tired.

Grandma had after all raised 8 children.  She had to be tired.  And by then there were sixteen grandchildren.  No wonder she didn’t really say very much to us.  She had probably had enough of kids running past her.  It seemed to us that we were light years away from the place in life that she was in.  We were full of energy and eager to try every new thing;  she sat quietly in her chair.

We never imagined that we would be like Grandma.  She was an old person with no where to go and nothing to do.  There would sometimes be hushed conversations in the other room about who would take her, whose home she could go to next.  I remember the emotion in the air around those talks – a kind of reluctance and resentment.  Grandpa had been dead for some time, and no one really wanted to take care of her.

I wonder now what it must have been like, to feel burdensome to your sons and daughters.  I wonder now what thoughts and feelings my grandma must have had.  I wonder now if she knew some secret that she kept to herself about being old.  And, if she did, I wonder now why she didn’t tell us so we could understand. 

 

 

 

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