Sunday, March 28, 2010

The violence of the daily

In her weekly e-mail update titled "Reflection Questions," leadership and life coach Marcia Hyatt quotes Trappist monk and world renowned spiritual author Thomas Merton

"To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times," she asks us to reflect on the ways in which we succumb to the violence of our times.

How intriguing to find Merton relating "good deeds" to the "violence of our times." Certainly, the issues he mentions are ones that concern all who struggle to make good use of their time. Merton, however, is not accusing the works themselves but the way in which we perform those works.

In reflecting on this, I realize that I succumb to this violence each time I forget to be fully present to whatever it is I am doing. Each time I rush through the "now" to get to what should be an “attitude” but instead has become a “place,”: Inner quiet and focus.

Why quiet should be a place toward which I rush might stem from my monastic days when we were warned against the prayer of silence or centering which the church termed “the doctrine [heretical] of quietism.” Catholic Encyclopedia.

"Generally speaking [quietism is]a sort of false or exaggerated mysticism, which under the guise of the loftiest spirituality contains erroneous notions which, if consistently followed, would prove fatal to morality. ...In its essential features Quietism is a characteristic of the religions of India. Both Pantheistic Brahmanism and Buddhism aim at a sort of self-annihilation, a state of indifference in which the soul enjoys an imperturbable tranquility. And the means of bringing this about is the recognition of one's identity with Brahma, the all-god, or, for the Buddhist, the quenching of desire and the consequent attainment of Nirvana, incompletely in the present life, but completely after death."

Thomas Merton helped turn this doctrine on its head by reminding the Church of it’s ancient mystical traditions, diffusing the threat of "heresy," and introducing millions to lives of contemplation. Rather than warning against the falsity of eastern mystic traditions, "Merton was a keen proponent of interfaith understanding. He pioneered dialogue with prominent Asian spiritual figures, including the Dalai Lama, D.T. Suzuki, the Japanese writer on the Zen tradition, and the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh."

Perhaps in "succumbing to the violence of our times," I've also "succumbed to the violence of" Church doctrine.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Every morning I turn on my computer and receive a lovely photo and poem by award- winning poet John Caddy. I've know John for many years. When I first began working at Milkweed Editions (a superb literary press in Minneapolis) there was a lot of excitement when his book The Color of Mesabi Bones won the Los Angeles Times Book Award. I have his permission to share this recent post with you. It brought a sense of freshness to a cold March morning on Lake Superior.

We are tender toward the young.
Gentle in our eyes are lives just opening:
Smalls, the risen seed, the nestling’s gape,
grasshopper nymph in perfect miniature,
a tulip bud just coloring,
the spotted fawn in ferns,
all the small who are potentials,
all the lives of innocence:
but how helps this our survival?
Why feel so far beyond our kind?
Perhaps to make us tender
for a moment toward our selves.

It is not fashionable to explore our interconnectedness with the Others. It is almost reflexive to accuse such attempts as excessive sentiment, but this is really just a last gasp of the gendering of science.

Explore your own responses to other lives; wonder how such feelings came to be. -- John Caddy

About Me

My photo
Beryl is the author of The Scent of God: A Memoir published by Counterpoint NY in 2006 and A View of the Lake published by Lake Superior Port Cities Inc. in 2001. She’s been living on Lake Superior for seventeen wonderful years, and spent 10 years writing two popular columns for the Cook County News Herald: Newcomer Notes and Putting Down Roots. Beryl is past president of the Schroeder Area Historical Society and a long-time chair of its Oral History and Marketing committees. She is a past board member of the Violence Prevention Center in Grand Marais and committee member for the Grand Marais Art Colony’s first ever annual North Shore Reader and Writers Festival. She’s been published in the Sun Magazine, Minnesota Monthly, Lake Superior Magazine, and The Trenton Times and in the anthologies, Surviving Ophelia published by Perseus Publications in 2001 and The New Writer's Handbook, Vol. 2, published by Scarletta Press in 2008 and was named Best of Minnesota Writers by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She is currently working on her third memoir: the sequel to The Scent of God.