Words to Live By: John O’Donohue

I’m surprised that I haven’t yet shared any poems or quotes from John O’Donohue because he is one of those poets that literally seems to see the souls and longings of humanity and translate them into language, a remarkable gift that I hope to cultivate over time.  It’s uncanny how his poems surface just when I need them, from books or friends or, for the poem below, from wonderful blogs like The Beauty We Love.
 
On a farm you learn to respect nature, 
particularly for the wisdom of its dark underworld.  
When you sow things in the spring, 
you commit them to the darkness of the soil.  
The soil does its own work.  
 
It is destructive to interfere with the rhythm and wisdom of its darkness.  
You sow drills of potatoes on Tuesday and you are delighted with them.  
You meet someone on a Wednesday who says 
that you spread the potatoes too thickly, you will have no crop.  
 
You dig up the potatoes again and spread them more thinly.  
 
On the following Monday, you meet an agricultural advisor who says 
this particular variety of seed potatoes needs to be spread close together.
  
You dig them up again and set them closer to each other.  
 
If you keep scraping at the garden, you will never allow anything to grow.  
People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of their hearts.  
They have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that now explains why 
they are the way they are.  They have found an old memory that opens a new wound.  
They keep on relentlessly, again and again, scraping the clay away from their own hearts.  
In nature we do not see the trees, for instance, getting seriously involved in therapeutic analysis 
of their root systems or the whole stony world that they had to avoid on their way to the light.  
Each tree grows in two directions at once, into the darkness and out to the light 
with as many branches and roots as it needs to embody its wild desires…
 
It is wise to allow the soul to carry on its secret work in the night side of your life.  
You might not see anything stirring for a long time.  
You might have only the slightest intimations 
of the secret growth that is happening within you, 
but these intimations are sufficient.

~ John O’Donohue
from Anam Cara
 
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Words to Live By: Neal DeGrasse Tyson

“When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than most of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars. There’s a level of connectivity — that’s really what you want in life. You want to feel connected, you want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you’re a participant in the goings on and activities and events around you. That’s precisely what we are, just by being alive.”
-Neal DeGrasse Tyson

Perfectly spiritual without being particularly religious, this quote from Neal DeGrasse Tyson that I found via Brain Pickings so succinctly and vibrantly elucidates our soul-home, that is, the entirety of everything.  It’s why I’m not particularly depressed when I think about the eventual (and possibly not so very distant) end of human beings as a species because we’ve eff-ed up our world so badly.  It’s why those photos of our tiny dot in one galaxy in the vast vast universe don’t make me feel insignificant in the least.

We are all made of stars, my dears.  Stars and soil and the flora, fauna, and universe matter of the ages.  And we all know it somewhere in our deepest heart of hearts, we just forget much of the time while we’re utterly caught up in our social and cultural humanness.  Let us remember more often.

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Visions of sugarplums, or sugar beets more like.

Giving up is easy.  Becoming jaded, disillusioned, very nearly bored with the relentless march of our screwed up systems toward self-annihilation, it’s easy.  Persisting in change, however, is not.  Remaining optimistic, idealistic, dare I say HOPEFUL, is not so easy.  But to persist is to live, and those who provide a reason to persist, particularly without intending to do so, are valuable beyond recognition.

So you can imagine my heart’s gladness when I read my dear friend Caleb’s thoughts on Occupy and my being responded with a resounding YES.  YES I want to create.  YES I want to grow.  YES I want to be part of imagining and building a newbettermoresustainableandjoyful world.

His whole piece resonated with me, and many of the system criticisms, from food to politics to banks, are questions I myself have asked, wondering at how there is a person left on the planet that feels like things are going well.  Our systems aren’t working!  Capitalism is failing the majority of citizens!  We don’t have accountability, for corporations or politicians, and yet we give an inordinate amount of power to both of these sectors!  As Jess Zimmerman writes for Grist, “combating climate change will mean overhauling the free market economy and contracting the corporate sector, and people whose livelihoods depend on big business have a reason to be afraid.”  Those who have managed to suppress their conscience enough to make their way to the top of this inherently unstable and immoral food chain (an incredibly disproportionate number of straight white males, to boot) should expect to be challenged, and eventually to relinquish their stranglehold over the livelihood of the populace.

But it is not the criticisms that really got me going.  It was Caleb’s vision of the future, a co-created, human scale future.  A future of community and beauty, where work is play and we have not given up on our own lives.  Where the world is Our World, a place where we have stopped artificially segmenting our lives, our relationships, our homes from our workplaces from our parks from our play places.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Wonder is essential in this future vision, a wonder that manifests itself in curiosity, and eventually a drive to create something magnificent.  It is not duty or responsibility alone that will create the new.  It is through longing for a better world coupled with a sharp vision of how we might get there that we will persist, that we will truly live.

To not give up, that is the first challenge.  And to illumine our place in the vision, that is the second.  In the last few weeks Ben and I have committed to finding and purchasing a house without succumbing to the system, instead remaining true to our values of simplicity and human and earth sustainability.  We will find our home through building relationships, through moving into opportunity as it comes while practically examining our personal realities.  I have also personally committed to examine my work, my vocation, and to do the best where I am while honing in on where my passions meet the world’s need.

More concretely: we will have self-declared hours of creativity, to write or play music or paint or cook or whatever.  Once we have a house we will have a garden of food, medicinal herbs, and native plants to support bees; a bike building and maintenance area; monthly potlucks and intellectual salons; safe space for both conversation and quiet; a root cellar in the basement and crafting space in the attic.  Most importantly, we will invite others to join us.

I am idealistic, I know.  I have been berated for it at times, celebrated for it at others.  But what better way to live in the world than in hope, a critical hope that opts out of that which is failing and builds something better?

An emotion with no name.

Life is a beautiful, complex, sometimes painful and often marvelous creature that more often than not is indescribable when at it’s most poignant.  So when I found this excerpt from ‘The Eyes of the Soul’ by Hugh Brockman Ripman in the latest issue of Parabola magazine that nearly perfectly describes my internal reaction to said poignancy, I knew I had to record and share it.

Feelings of like nature were sometimes produced by impressions reaching him through eye or ear- a sunset or a symphony, the flash of a bird’s wing against the blue of the sky, the voice of a mother crooning to her child.  At times for a whole week he would be filled by this sense of expectancy, of being on the verge of revelation.  At such times all his senses were unusually sharp, as though stripped of a covering which normally muffled them, and he felt an emotion to which he could give no name.  It was a kind of pleasant melancholy, painfully intense under the stimulus of certain impressions, as though he were a musical instrument, the strings of which lay in his heart and were plucked, and in the pain of the plucking was born the beauty of the note.

Blessed be the beauty and pain, friends, family and strangers, dusk and sunrise, and the glorious sensory overload that is October.

In a word, perfect.

Simple.

Sustainable.

Beautiful.

Quirky.

And joyous.

To all our friends and family, thank you for being the most important part of such a spectacular day.  To all those getting married in the coming months/years, know that it truly is possible to celebrate with everyone you love in a simple, sustainable, beautiful and quirky way without tons of stress and expense.  Remember what is important:
THE PEOPLE.