Monday, May 23, 2016

the stability of your soul

"Walking is to experience these quietly and humbly insistent realities - the tree growing between rocks, the watching bird, the streamlet finding its course - without expecting anything. Walking makes the humous and complaints fall suddenly silent, stops the ceaseless interior chatter through which we comment on others, evaluate ourselves, recompose, interpret. Walking shuts down the sporadic soliloquy to whose surface sour rancours, imbecile satisfactions and easy imaginary vengeances rise sluggishly in turn. You are facing a mountain, walking among great trees, and you think: they are just there. They are there, they didn't expect me, they were always there. They were there long before me and they will still be there long after me."

"So that walking, by unburdening us, rising us from the obsession with doing, puts us in touch with that childhood eternity once again. I mean that walking is so to speak child's play. To marvel at the beauty of the day, the brightness of the sun, the grandeur of the trees, the blue of the sky: to do that takes no experience, no ability."

- Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking

So let's begin today by walking, looking at trees. Let's quiet those inner voices, the persistent to-do list, and let's just look at blue sky, green leaves.

And next we might like to think about our soul, our "seismic core."

The season of commencement addresses is upon us. Let's begin with Maria Popova's (of brainpickings fame). She starts off by saying:

"I want to talk to you today about the soul. Not the soul as that immortal unit of religious mythology, for I am a nonbeliever. And not the soul as a pop-culture commodity, that voracious consumer of self-help chicken soup. I mean the soul simply as shorthand for the seismic core of personhood from which our beliefs, our values, and our actions radiate."

She reminds us of E.B. White's words:

“... a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.”

She says:
"Strive to be uncynical, to be a hope-giving force, to be a steward of substance. Choose to lift people up, not to lower them down — because it is a choice, always, and because in doing so you lift yourself up. 
Develop an inner barometer for your own value. Resist pageviews and likes and retweets and all those silly-sounding quantification metrics that will be obsolete within the decade. Don’t hang the stability of your soul on them. They can’t tell you how much your work counts for and to whom. They can’t tell you who you are and what you’re worth. They are that demoralizing electric bike that makes you feel if only you could pedal faster — if only you could get more pageviews and likes and retweets — you’d be worthier of your own life."

Next, let's visit Omid Safi's speech:

One of the things that breaks my heart, whether in the corporate world or in the academic world, is that I ask my friends, “How are you doing?” and all I get in answer is this head nod, “You know, I am so busy, so busy.” And I feel like, “You told me nothing.”
How do we remember that we are human beings, not human doings?
When someone asks you, “How are you?” Don’t shout back your to-do list. I am not asking what do you need to get done today. If we have to rephrase it, what I am really asking is, “How is your heart today?”
Take that risk with the people who deserve it, who are worthy of it, make yourself vulnerable to them, actually tell them, actually share with them: “I am really struggling today. I am doing my very best, but I can really use a hug.” You might just find that it changes the dynamic of your connection with them.
You all have done Philosophy courses, you know this: Plato. The Apology. “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human.” Examine the life. Take the time to reflect. Sit down with your own self.
Banish this word “busy” from your vocabulary and ask instead, “Is it meaningful?”

We might not exactly be able to always voice, 'how is your heart?' or 'on what frequency is your soul radiating?' but sometimes, yes, sometimes it's possible. Wait for those moments, look for them. (Instructions to myself here).

And then to mix it up just a little, this from Parker Palmer on "The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice" in which he talks about depression, how advice can leave us feeling less at peace, and the solace in accompanying someone in their suffering. 

"Here’s the deal. The human soul doesn’t want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed — to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make that kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul’s healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through."

May the light of your soul guide you

by John O'Donohue

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
You do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
Who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
Possibilities and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console and renew you.

The soul can be hard to keep track of, though, in this time. 

How to Regain Your Soul

by William Stafford

Come down Canyon Creek trail on a summer afternoon
that one place where the valley floor opens out. You will see
the white butterflies. Because of the way shadows
come off those vertical rocks in the west, there are
shafts of sunlight hitting the river and a deep
long purple gorge straight ahead. Put down your pack.

Above, air sighs the pines. It was this way
when Rome was clanging, when Troy was being built,
when campfires lighted caves. The white butterflies dance
by the thousands in the still sunshine. Suddenly, anything
could happen to you. Your soul pulls toward the canyon
and then shines back through the white wings to be you


It's time again, I think, to listen to Jennifer Berezan's In These Arms, A Song for All Beings. The words:

I cannot turn my eyes, I cannot count the cost
Of all that has been broken, all that has been lost
I cannot understand, the suffering that life brings
War and hate and hunger
And a million other things

When I've done all that I can
And I try to do my part
Let sorrow be a doorway
Into an open heart

And the light on the hills is full of mercy
The wind in the trees it comes to save me
This silence it will never desert me
I long to hold the whole world in these arms

May all beings be happy
May all beings be safe
May all beings everywhere be free

A blog post on metta meditation here. And an article here.

"Metta (the Pali word for Lovingkindness) means developing the art of friendship toward oneself, toward others and to life itself." 

- Sharon Salzberg

from an interview on On Being with Pico Iyer and Krista Tippet:

"Yes. This is a bit glib, but it’s still true that the only thing in fact that is certain in life is that the next thing that happens will surprise us. I like the language of surprise maybe even more than doubt, or just a willingness to be surprised I think is a great virtue. And it’s a great virtue when we approach other people, strangers. It’s not really the way we get trained. 
We kind of get trained and educated to arm ourselves with who we are and with representing that. And there’s a place for that. But to walk through the world open to being surprised, and open to being surprised by people who are very different from us, opens all this possibility and it’s also more pleasurable than walking through the world armed and ready to judge, and thinking you know everything. That’s a heavy burden to bear. Knowing everything."

(An Ace interlude here....)

But yes, what a wonderful stance, to go forward with curiosity as Pema Chodron has said, and to walk through the world 'open to being surprised.'

Nature, I think always surprises, delights. 

I liked the above image so much, but wanted to try it also in bw.

So, next, my usual randomness. Ginger cookie and pineapple coconut ice cream.

Although I can never find my fave, Mayan Chocolate, (and thought it had been discontinued but apparently not)....this new stuff is very fine indeed.

I'm still trying to find a way to photograph the suburbs that suits me.

And back to the pollen path, the blossom trail....

Mornings in my kitchen last week looked something like this.

And it is lilac time, in a big way, suddenly.

The wind blowing the trees in the utility corridor.....

And next, something a bit different.

Describing Paintings

by Adam Zagajewski

We usually catch only a few details —
grapes from the seventeenth century,
still fresh and gleaming,
perhaps a fine ivory fork,
or a cross's wood and drops of blood,
and great suffering that has already dried.
The shiny parquet creaks.
We're in a strange town —
almost always in a strange town.
Somewhere a guard stands and yawns.
An ash branch sways outside the window.
It's absorbing,
describing static paintings.
Scholars devote tomes to it.
But we're alive,
full of memory and thought,
love, sometimes regret,
and at moments we take a special pride
because the future cries in us
and its tumult makes us human.


On the weekend, Chloe and I visited a tiny show at the AGA titled "The Unvarnished Truth: Exploring the Material History of Paintings."

There's a fun online tool to play with to look at this next painting by Van Gogh, which was mainly what we'd gone to see. 

I actually sort of recommend just going to see this one painting, ignore everything else. Walk directly to this gallery, walk to the back of it, turn right, and this:


by Adam Zagajewski

Zurbaran painted by turns
Spanish saints
and still lifes,
and thus objects
lying on heavy tables
in his still lifes
are likewise holy.

And though this painting of a ginger jar and onions is by Van Gogh, rather than Zurbaran, it too feels holy.

Afterwards, we had lunch at the art gallery restaurant. It was a rainy day and we had the place mostly to ourselves and it was all so lovely.

Art is good for the stability of the soul, but so is lunch.

Chloe sketched, and we chatted. I drank a gallon of really good coffee.

We goofed around and took some photos, of course.

C'est moi.

Chloe had the grilled cheese and egg from the brunch menu.

And I splurged on the lobster benedict.

And a sort of wobbly heart showed up in my coffee cup. And it was lovely. And I was very awake for the rest of the day.

That my friends, is that.

I wish you as always, a calm week ahead, some time to care for your soul. May you be uplifted, may you be open to surprise. May you be happy, safe, and free. May you have at least one lunch with someone you love.

xo S.


  1. If you are into making your own ice cream, there is an aztec chocolate ice cream by David Lebovitz, which I love. Maybe it would be something for you, too, if you can't buy the other one anymore.
    I love your fuchsia pictures, such an unexpected angle.
    And you have a really pretty daughter. But you know that already :-)
    Thanks for sharing! Khendra

  2. A beautiful walk, some soul searching, an Ace interlude, a museum trip, yummy food and coffee..thank you for this lovely day! Let's do this again soon :)

  3. thank you for those wishes. I love those food photos :)
    I too have often tried to get away from asking "how are you" and tried other versions. I've concluded (after many bloopers) to tailor make a greeting to the individual (not to strangers though). They vary from, "what's the best part of your day today?" "tell me the most memorable part of your week" and a few others that always seem to work -- plus, they get a nice conversation going.

    I really enjoy John O'Donohue and just finished reading one of his books while we were away. I'm going to share this one with my son -- I know he'll appreciate it.

  4. Lovely writing on a topic near and dear. Again I see how we draw from the same well. Your photos are exquisite. Tbank you, with metta...

  5. Thanks for sharing all this wisdom, beauty and joy!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...