Jerry Katz
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Highlights #946

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01/13/02 Sunday


Words and Silence

a few excerpts from...

Poet's Choice: A Farewell: By Rita Dove

Sunday, January 6, 2002; Page BW12

Poems to me are not just objects of art, exquisitely wrought cages for the living tissue of a captured
moment; nor are they mere puzzles to be unraveled or sources of passive entertainment. I have always
thought of poems as my companions -- and like companions, they accompany you wherever the journey
(or the afternoon) might lead: They will listen as well as expound; they can influence the mood of the
encounter and they can even change their minds; they comfort us and argue back when they don't agree. A
poem grows on me and, if I'm receptive and it's a good poem, grows with me.

To quote Mary Oliver again:

Would it be better to sit in silence?
To think everything, to feel everything, to say nothing?

This is the way of the orange gourd.
This is the habit of the rock in the river, over which
the water pours all night and all day.

But the nature of man is not the nature of silence.
Words are the thunders of the mind.
Words are the refinement of the flesh.
Words are the responses to the thousand curvaceous moments --
we just manage it --
sweet and electric, words flow from the brain
and out the gate of the mouth.

We make books of them, out of hesitations and grammar.
We are slow, and choosy.
This is the world.


...though, if one believes William Stafford, true communion is all the
stronger for being invisible and silent:

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.


Loving kindness - Pema Chodron

1 Loving-Kindness
THERE'S A COMMON MISUNDERSTANDING among all the human beings who have ever
been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain
and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and
animals and birds. All of us are the same.
A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is
to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our
inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond
pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything
turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful
life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and
pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how
we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we're
committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least
edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that
particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.
When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual
discipline, they often think that somehow they're going to improve, which
is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It's a bit like
saying, "If I jog, I'll be a much better person." "If I could only get a
nicer house, I'd be a better person." "If I could meditate and calm down,
I'd be a better person." Or the scenario may be that they find fault with
others; they might say, "If it weren't for my husband, I'd have a perfect
"If it weren't for the fact that my boss and I can't get on, my job would
be just great." And "If it weren't for my mind, my meditation would be
But loving-kindness -maitri- toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of
anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We
can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous
or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change
ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away
and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The
ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we
are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know
with tremendous curiosity and interest.
Sometimes among Buddhists the word ego is used in a derogatory sense, with
a different connotation than the Freudian term. As Buddhists, we might say,
"My ego causes me so many problems." Then we might think, "Well, then,
we're supposed to get rid of it, right? Then there'd be no problem." On the
contrary, the idea isn't to get rid of ego but actually to begin to take an
interest in ourselves, to investigate and be inquisitive about ourselves.
The path of meditation and the path of our lives altogether has to do with
curiosity, inquisitiveness. The ground is ourselves; we're here to study
ourselves and to get to know ourselves now, not later. People often say to
me, "I wanted to come and have an interview with you, I wanted to write you
a letter, I wanted to call you on the phone, but I wanted to wait until I
was more together." And I think, "Well, if you're anything like me, you
could wait forever!" So come as you are. The magic is being willing to open
to that, being willing to be fully awake to that. One of the main
discoveries of meditation is seeing how we continually run away from the
present moment, how we avoid being here just as we are. That's not
considered to be a problem; the point is to see it.
Inquisitiveness or curiosity involves being gentle, precise, and open -
actually being able to let go and open. Gentleness is a sense of
goodheartedness toward ourselves. Precision is being able to see very
clearly, not being afraid to see what's really there, just as a scientist
is not afraid to look into the microscope. Openness is being able to let go
and to open.
The effect of this month of meditation that we are beginning will be as if,
at the end of each day, someone were to play a video of you back to
yourself and you could see it all. You would wince quite often and say
"Ugh!" You probably would see that you do all those things for which you
criticize all those people you don't like in your life, all those people
that you judge. Basically, making friends with yourself is making friends
with all those people too, because when you come to have this kind of
honesty, gentleness, and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about
yourself, there's no obstacle to feeling loving-kindness for others as well.
So the ground of maitri is ourselves. We're here to get to know and study
ourselves. The path, the way to do that, our main vehicle, is going to be
meditation, and some sense of general wakefulness. Our inquisitiveness will
not be limited just to sitting here; as we walk through the halls, use the
lavatories, walk outdoors, prepare food in the kitchen, or talk to our
friends - whatever we do- we will try to maintain that sense of aliveness,
openness, and curiosity about what's happening. Perhaps we will experience
what is traditionally described as the fruition of maitri - playfulness.
So hopefully we'll have a good month here, getting to know ourselves and
becoming more playful, rather than more grim.

from: The Wisdom of NO ESCAPE and the path of Loving-Kindness
by: Pema Chodron




Silence is absence of self - Anthony De Mello

Sometimes there would be a rush of noisy visitors
and the Silence of the monastery would be shattered.

This would upset the disciples;
not the Master, who seemed just as content
with the noise as with the Silence.

To his protesting disciples he said one day,
"Silence is not the absence of sound,
but the absence of self."

One Minute Wisdom - Anthony De Mello
Gujarat Sahitya Prakash 1985

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Jerry Katz
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