of prayer, love, and the touching of other worlds (Dostoevsky)

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“My young brother asked forgiveness of the birds: it seems senseless, yet it is right, for all is like an ocean, all flows and connects; touch it in one place and it echoes at the other end of the world. Let it be madness to ask forgiveness of the birds, still it would be easier for the birds, and for a child, and for any animal near you, if you yourself were more gracious than you are now, if only by a drop, still it would be easier.

“All is like an ocean, I say to you. Tormented by universal love, you, too, would then start praying to the birds, as if in a sort of ecstasy, and entreat them to forgive you your sin. Cherish this ecstasy, however senseless it may seem to people.” – Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov

IMAGE: West Hills County Park, Long Island

Wholeness, Hospitality and Broken Hearts

The possibility of wholeness grows out of a broken place.

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Becoming people who offer hospitality to strangers requires us to open our hearts time and again to the tension created by our fear of “the other.” That is why many wisdom traditions highlight the creative possibilities of a heart broken open instead of apart. Only from such a heart can hospitality flow–toward the stranger and toward all that we find alien and unsettling. – Parker Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy

Where do we hold the space in our transactional world for a real, live broken heart? How do we allow our well-curated online and real-time personas to feel pain, sadness, failure and shame? Where does all the disappointment go?

I try to acknowledge the fact that suffering is alive and well, an active part of our day to day lives. It’s just being human. The myth that suffering doesn’t exist, or that we always need to put up a good front embracing false positivity, simply sends the unpleasantness underground. Then like all forces under pressure, it manifests itself violently, as aggression, isolation and depression.

In every workplace, home and school, our hearts get broken all the time. We don’t always meet the expectations game, and that makes some people angry (or my favorite hospitality word: hangry = hungry + angry, the state of incoming guests who have put off a meal for too long). Some days the nonsense can just bounce right off, but other days it comes as a real shock and settles in to a deeper place. It’s more hurtful, more personal, more painful.

We can laugh it off. “Well, that’s how people are. We can’t control everyone’s behavior.” And that’s true. But what I find really helpful is to acknowledge it to myself: “Wow, that was really hurtful.” If a colleague tells me something ungenerous that someone says, I don’t try to dismiss, but instead to sit with it for a second. “Yeah, that was kind of mean. What can I do to help?” Or the reverse is also true. “Can you help that guest over there? I don’t think I can show up as my best self right now. I need a minute.”

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Muhheakantuck

How could I expect (of course! undoubtedly!) the movements of a river to conform to the linear currents of my thoughts?

A river is. Flowing north here. Flowing south there. But don’t all things proceed, running with all their might, from their starts to their finishes?

When does the river say, “I may try flowing the other way today?”

Why am I so eager to see the end, always just over the curvature of the earth? When will I say, instead, “I may try flowing the other way today?”

IMAGE: Walkway over the Hudson, Poughkeepsie, NY