Friday, December 31, 2010

RING OUT THE FALSE, RING IN THE TRUE

Celebration


                            Ring out the old, ring in the new,
                            Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
                            The year is going, let him go;
                            Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Tennyson
                              
Once again, we come to the threshold of a new year, the time-honored transitional point where we are expected to pause, consider our shortcomings, and institute new resolutions designed to insure that we reach the end of the year with the perfection of Greek gods. Studies have shown, however, that the vast majority of New Year's resolutions are soon abandoned.  Oscar Wilde once opined that "good resolutions are simply checks that men draw on a bank where they have no account."  In a similar vein,  Mark Twain quipped:
Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath.  Today, we are a pious and exemplary community.  Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings shorter than ever.
Perhaps it is a failure of character on my part, but I have seldom made New Year's resolutions.  The reason is quite simple:  If I need a cultural tradition or a calendar date to set me on the right path, it's highly unlikely that I will remain committed to that path.  I am not inclined, however, to be a complete cynic on this New Year's Day, so, in the spirit of joining the festival of resolution makers, I have decided to take a little resolution advice from the essayist John Burroughs and my old reliable friend, Mr. Tennyson.  Burroughs once stated that the only resolution he ever made and intended to keep was simply "to rise  above the little things," and Tennyson suggested that the best we can do is to simply "ring out the false" and "ring in the true."

Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be if everyone could just rise above the little things in the coming year, eliminate everything that is false, and ring the bells of truth with every word and every action?  That is what I am going to try to accomplish in the coming year in my little corner of the world.  I would like to rise increasingly above the petty things that contribute nothing to either my well-being or the happiness of the world.  I would also like to intensify the life-long task of eradicating any parts of my life that seem false or inauthentic.  With luck, I will be able to ring out everything that is not truly believed in the little "rag and bone shop" of my heart.  With hope, I will be able to ring in only that which is true.


A HAPPY AND PEACEFUL NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS



With all of my children and grandchildren coming home for the holidays, I will not have much time for blogging until after New Year's Day.  Before signing off, however, I want to wish everyone a very, Merry Christmas.

I also want to send a special note of gratitude to my good friends in the blogging community.  Your postings throughout the year have always been inspirational, informative, and thought-provoking, and your comments on my site have been unfailingly generous and insightful.  I am truly blessed to have such friends.

May your holidays be full of peace and joy; may you eat well, laugh well, and love well; and may you enter the new year with unbounded hope and an open heart.



*
In
 this
 season
of renewal
I give thanks
to this ineffable
and divine mystery
that is the ground of all
being, all love, and all hope;
that has overseen my uncertain
walk through some sixty-eight years;
that has lifted me up when I could not walk, 
pushed me forward when the direction was unclear,
sustained my confidence in the darkest hours of doubt.
T
HA
NKS

The Gratitude Tree


PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY
PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY
PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY
PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY
PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY
PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY
PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY
PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY
PEACEANDJOYANDPEACEANDJOY




Happy, happy Christmas,
that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; 
that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth;
that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away,
back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!

Charles Dickens


  O
O
O
SANTA
CLAUS
SANTA
CLAUS
SANTA
CLAUS
CLAUS
SANTA
CLAUS
8888888888888888888888
88888888888888888
888888888888




My very best to everyone!

George


and Derry, the Zen Master






Wednesday, December 8, 2010

SIMPLICITY: ALLOWING THE NECESSARY TO SPEAK


Many years ago, a friend made me a begging bowl like the ones used by the Buddhist monks.  I keep it on my desk, where it can be seen daily, because it reminds me of several principles that I want to guide my life.  First, it reminds me of Lao Tzu's paradoxical advice that we must be empty if we wish to be full.  Second, it reminds me that my needs, versus my desires, are no greater than what can be placed in a small bowl each day — a little food and a little water.  Finally, and most importantly, it reminds me of the need to anchor my life in simplicity — simplicity of purpose, simplicity of thought, simplicity of action.

In a world where one must "make a living", pay bills, discharge household chores, and take care of loved ones, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the simple life that is the lodestar for many of us.  Still, I find there are things that can be done to move my life closer to the ideal.  To use the words of the late artist, Hans Hoffman, I can "eliminate the unnecessary so the necessary may speak."  And that is what I truly want.  I want to hear the music of nature; I want to hear the music of other lives and other cultures; I want to listen to the beat and music of my own heart — music that is often smothered by the din and demand of modern life.

How, then, can we eliminate the unnecessary things in our lives, so that the life-affirming, necessary things can not only speak, but be heard?  I'm no expert on these matters, of course — simply a student.  There are a few simplicity practices, however, which I have incorporated into my daily life, and which have been paying considerable dividends in terms of the quality of life. Among the practices that I try to follow are these:
Do not make anything larger, more complex, or more serious than it needs to be.
Let nature and solitude be enough for my daily pleasure.
Always remain conscious and present with the task at hand.
Remember that some things are best left undone.
Minimize exposure to "news" and commercial advertising.
Follow Goethe's advice to "hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day . . ." 
Keep nothing that is not either useful or beautiful.
Remember that every act of consumption has environmental and social consequences.
Don't waste time attempting to rebut the arguments of foolish people.
To quote Alice Longworth Roosevelt, "fill what's empty, empty what's full,   and scratch where it itches." 

While I have yet to master these practices, I have found that each provides an effective way of simplifying my life, if only in some small measure.  How about you? What practices do you follow to keep yourself anchored in this world of mind-boggling complexity?

Set forth below are some interesting quotes on the need for more simplicity in our lives.  Many of these writers have inspired my own practices.  May you, too, find inspiration that will bring more simplicity and peace to your own lives.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent.  It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.


E.F.  Schumacher


To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter . . . to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a birds nest or wildflower in spring — these are some of the rewards of the simple life.


John Burroughs


The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.


Robert Louis Stevenson


Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.  The wisdom of life consists in elimination of non-essentials.


Lin Yutang


Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.


William Morris

Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are.  When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.


Lao Tzu


Live simply, so that others may simply live.


Gandhi

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.


Thoreau


Who is rich?  He who rejoices in his portion.


The Talmud

If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted with pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.


Annie Dillard



Voluntary simplicity means going fewer places in one day rather than more, seeing less so I can see more, doing less so I can do more, acquiring less so I can have more.


John Kabat-Zinn



You can't force simplicity; but you can invite it in by finding as much richness as possible in the few things at hand.  Simplicity doesn't mean meagerness but rather a certain kind of richness, the fullness that appears when we stop stuffing the world with things.

Thomas Moore


To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly; to listen to stars and birds, to babes and sages, with open heart; to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never; in a word to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common. This is to be my symphony.


William Henry Channing



Yesterday, my friend Robert, whose blog is The Solitary Walker, posted a moving article on his view of The Simple Life.  I close by quoting from Robert because what he says is as fine as anything said above:

The simple life is the good life, is the best life.  Joy, happiness and fulfillment come from the innocent, simple, often freely bestowed pleasures of existence: a bracing cliff top walk on a blustery autumn day; the sound of bagpipes in a remote Scottish glen; crossing the Spanish meseta under a hot sun, then spending the night in a cheap albergue with other pilgrims; growing, preparing and cooking one's own food; the scent of fir tree sap; the cold grittiness of rock beneath the fingers; the tang of citrus; the cry of owls; the running of deer; eating when hungry, drinking when thirsty, sleeping when tired; lovemaking.

Go forth and keep it simple, 
my friends, 
especially during the holidays!

Friday, December 3, 2010

THE MEDITATIONS OF MARCUS AURELIUS

Bust of Marcus Aurelius
Metropolitan Museum of Art
New York


Roman emperors are seldom remembered for their qualities of humility and introspection.  There are a few exceptions to this rule, however, and the most prominent is Marcus Aurelius Antoninus — known in modern times simply as Marcus Aurelius — who was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180. Marcus Aurelius was a practitioner and proponent of  Stoic philosophy, and he is widely remembered as one of the "Five Good Emperors."

For most of the last thirteen years of his life, Marcus Aurelius remained encamped with his army in its long campaign against invading German tribes on the northern border of the empire, near what is now modern Hungary.  It was during this period that Marcus wrote a series of personal notes on the philosophical components of a virtuous life.  Among other things, he addressed the relationship of man and nature, the importance of living in the present moment, the dynamics that should govern our relationships with other people, and the way that people should encounter and deal with change, especially adversity.

Although the personal notes were never intended for public dissemination, they were preserved and ultimately published in 1559 as The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.  Since their publication, The Meditations have had great influence on statesmen and philosophers throughout the world.  The former American President Bill Clinton was greatly inspired by Marcus Aurelius; poet Matthew Arnold once declared that Marcus was "the most beautiful figure in history;" and British historian Michael Grant claimed that The Meditations are "one of the most acute and sophisticated pieces of ancient writing that exists."  Grant also said that The Meditations is "the best book ever written by a major ruler." 

Over the years, I have acquired several different translations of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The most recent is a highly regarded contemporary translation, titled The Emperor's Handbook, by C. Scott Hicks and David V. Hicks.  Using that translation, I invite you to peruse through some of the thoughts of a great man who still has much to teach us.  I begin with a quote that could have well been used in my last posting, which relates to the need of mankind to always remain in harmony with the patterns and rhythms of the universe.

I am in harmony with all that is in harmony with you, O thou great Universe.  Nothing opportune for you is too early or too late for me. Anything your seasons bear, O Nature, is fruit of mine; all comes from you, abides in you, and returns to you.

First thing every morning tell yourself: I am going to meet a busybody, an ingrate, a bully, a liar, a schemer, and a boor.  Ignorance of good and evil has made them what they are. . .  . None of them can harm me, for none can force me to do wrong against my will, and I cannot be angry with a brother or resent him, for we were born into this world to work together . . .

Bear in mind that the measure of a man is the worth of the things he cares about.

Are my guiding principles healthy and robust?  On this hangs everything.

Your days are numbered.  Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun.

Purge your mind of all aimless and idle thoughts, especially those that pry into the affairs of others or wish them ill.

We live only in the present, in this fleet-footed moment.  The rest is lost and behind us, or ahead of us and may never be found.


Bronze Statue of Marcus Aurelius
Musei Capitolini
Rome
Photo by Jean-Christophe Benoist

Nowhere is there a more idyllic spot, a vacation home more private and peaceful, than in one's own mind, especially when it is furnished in such a way that the merest inward glance induces ease (and by ease I mean the effects of an orderly and well-appointed mind, neither lavish nor crude)."


Be the man happy with his fate, rejoicing in his acts or justice, and bent upon deeds of kindness.


Cherish your gifts, however humble, and take pleasure in them.

Fragment of Bronze Portrait of Marcus Aurelius
Louvre Museum
Paris

Claim your right to say or do anything that accords with nature, and pay no attention to the chatter of your critics.

Consider those you personally have known who, ignoring the good that lay at their feet, ran after some vain thing and never found happiness that was within their reach all the time.  A man's interest in an object should be no greater than its intrinsic worth.


Never forget that the universe is a single living organism possessed of one substance and one soul, holding all things suspended in a single consciousness and creating all things with a single purpose that they might work together spinning and weaving and knotting whatever comes to pass.


Everything is as natural and familiar as a spring rose or a summer grape. This includes disease, death, slander, treason, and all those things that gladden and sadden the hearts of fools.


Bad luck borne nobly is good luck.


Let the virtues you do possess shine forth: your honesty, dignity, and stamina; your indifference to pleasure and loathing of self-pity; your wanting little for yourself and giving much to others; your measured words and temperate deeds.


Detail from Column of Marcus Aurelius
Piazza Colonna
Rome


Don't become disgusted with yourself, lose patience, or give up if you sometimes fail to act as your philosophy dictates, but after each setback, return to reason and be content if most of your acts are worthy of a good man.  Love the philosophy to which you return, and go back to it . . . 

Nothing should be called good that fails to enlarge our humanity.


Your mind is colored by the thoughts it feeds upon, for the mind is dyed by ideas and imaginings.  Saturate your mind, then, with a succession of ideas like these:  Wherever life is possible, it is possible to live in the right way.


Nothing ever happens to a man he is not equipped by nature to endure.


The best revenge is not to do as they do.


Column of Marcus Aurelius
Piazza Colonna
Rome


You always have the option of having no opinion.  There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can't control.  These things are not asking to be judged by you.  Leave them alone.


All things are woven together, and they make a sacred pattern.  One might almost say that no one thing is entirely at odds with any other thing. All the parts are arranged in relation to one another, and together they form one beautiful and orderly whole.  For there is one universe made out of all things, one God pervading it all, one being and one law, one reason common to all intelligent creatures, and one truth . . .

Seek refuge in yourself.  The knowledge of having acted justly is all your reasoning inner self needs to be fully content and at peace with itself.


To live each day as if it were your last without speeding up or slowing down or pretending to be other than what you are —  this is perfection of character.


Happy is the man who does the work of man.  And what is a man's work? To love his neighbor, to distrust the evidence of his senses, to distinguish false ideas from true, and to contemplate the works of nature.

If you're troubled by something outside yourself, it isn't the thing itself that bothers you, but your opinion of it, and this opinion you have the power to revoke immediately.


Fear not that life will someday end; fear instead that a life in harmony with nature may never begin. 



Portrait of Marcus Aurelius
by
Charlotte Mary Yonge
 (1823-1901)

Note on Photographs:  Except for the second photo of the Bronze Statue of Marcus Aurelius, for which attribution has been given, all photos used in this posting are in the public domain and were downloaded from Wikimedia Commons. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

THE WORLD IN HARMONY


On November 19, 2010, NBC aired a very special movie, "Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World," which was inspired by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and produced by by Stuart and Julie Bergman Sender.  A trailer of the movie can be viewed by clicking on HARMONY and the movie itself can be seen in its entirety by going to the NBC archives video.

I have been so moved by this movie and its message that I want to recommend it to all who visit this site on a regular basis.  Lest you have any doubt, this is not a movie about Prince Charles.  It is a movie about how we can return to sustainable environmental practices that will preserve the earth for our children, grandchildren, and future generations.  Feeling passionately about this subject, I could write about it endlessly, but I think it's best to let the movie speak for itself.  I hope you will not only enjoy it, but conclude in the end, as I did, that we must all do more to protect the fragile resources that we have been allowed to use for our limited years on earth.

To give you a flavor of some of the topics discussed in the film, I am setting forth a few quotes from Prince Charles, as well as some relevant quotes from other thinkers such as Einstein, Gandhi, E.F. Schumacher, and Stephen Jay Gould.  May you find the same inspiration that I have found.

Remember that our children and grandchildren will not ask what our generation said, but what it did.  Let us give an answer, then, of which we can be proud.
* * *  
We have lost something very precious.  That is an understanding of our interconnectedness with nature and a world beyond the material.
* * * 
Carrying on as if, fundamentally, it is "business as usual" is no longer an option.  We cannot solve the problems of the 21st Century with 20th Century solutions.
* * * 
Visionary people have a vital role to play in helping the world to find the strength needed to address its problems. 
 HRH The Prince of Wales 

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.
Einstein 

The best friend on earth of man is the tree.  When we use the tree respectfully and economically, we have one of the greatest resources on earth.
Frank Lloyd Wright

We still have to learn how to live peacefully, not only with our fellow men but also with nature and, above all, with those Higher Powers which have made nature and have made us.
E.F. Schumacher

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
Gandhi 

Our world has enough for each person's need, but not for his greed.
Gandhi

Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the people of the earth.  Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it.
Chief Seattle

Human consciousness arose but a minute before midnight on the geological clock.  Yet we mayflies try to bend an ancient world to our purposes, ignorant perhaps of the messages buried in its long history.  Let us hope that we are still in the early morning of our April day.
Stephen Jay Gould

For those who are interested in pursuing these ideas further, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World is also available in book form (see header photo) and can be purchased from either Amazon or the Harmony movie website.

A JOYFUL AND PEACEFUL WEEK TO EVERYONE!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

THANKSGIVING EVERY DAY



As we enter this week of Thanksgiving, I want to thank all of my friends in the blogging community for enriching my life daily.  You have been, and continue to be, great sources of inspiration, education, and joy.  More importantly, you have proven yourselves to be true friends — fellow pilgrims on this magical and mysterious journey we call life.

My offering today is very simple:  some abstract photos taken during the past few weeks, some pertinent observations of others about unexpected beauty, and, finally, a lovely poem by Anne Sexton about everyday blessings.  Enjoy.



One of the most important — and most neglected — elements in the beginning of the interior life is the ability to respond to reality, to see the value and the beauty in ordinary things, to come alive to the splendor that is all around us.
Thomas Merton 



Everything is life is speaking, is audible, is communicating, in spite of its apparent silence.
Hazrat Inayat Khan 



 For lack of attention, a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.

Evelyn Underhill



                                 No more words.  In the name of this place we
                                 drink in with our breathing, stay quiet like a flower,
                                 So the nightbirds will start singing.


Rumi


If you love it enough, anything will talk with you.
George Washington Carver 




The moment one gives close attention to anything . . . it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.
Henry Miller 



Take, for example, a pencil, ashtray, anything, and holding it before you in both hands, regard it for a while.  Forgetting its use and name, yet continuing to regard it, ask yourself seriously, "What is it?" . . . Its dimension of wonder opens; for the mystery of the being of that thing is identical with the mystery of the being of the universe, and yourself.
Joseph Campbell 




                                                 WELCOME MORNING


                                   There is joy
                                   in all:
                                   in the hair I brush each morning,
                                   in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
                                   that I rub my body with each morning,
                                   in the chapel of eggs I cook
                                   each morning,
                                   the spoon and the chair
                                   that cry "hello there, Anne"
                                   each morning,
                                   in the godhead of the table
                                   that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
                                   each morning.

                                   All this is God,
                                   right here in my pea-green house
                                   each morning
                                   and I mean,
                                   though often forget,
                                   to give thanks,
                                   to faint down by the kitchen table
                                   in prayer of rejoicing
                                   as the holy birds at the kitchen window
                                   peck into their marriage of seeds.

                                  So while I think of it,
                                  let me paint a thank-you on my palm
                                  for this God, this laughter of the morning,
                                  lest it go unspoken.

                                  The Joy that isn't shared, I've heard,
                                  dies young.

                                  Anne Sexton




Notes on photographs:  (1) detail from abandoned Chevrolet tow truck; (2) mooring line and reflections from dock in marina; (3) patina of old metal strip found in boatyard; (4) sailboat rudder and keg; (5) sunrise on Tred Avon River; (6) stern of old work boat; (7) water reflection of boat workshop; (8) water reflection of machinery and sailboat masts: (9) detail from abandoned Chevrolet tow truck; (10) collage of some of my other abstract photos created by my blogging friend, Neighbor, over at Temporary Reality .


HAPPY THANKSGIVING
TO 
EVERYONE!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NOVEMBER REFLECTIONS




Perhaps it is trite to say this, but nature is, indeed, an amazing artist!  If you have any doubt, just look at the interplay of color, form, and reflections in this little scene that I discovered near my home late one afternoon earlier in the week.  For one blissful and surreal moment, I felt that I was standing in the middle of a Monet painting.

Amazingly, this scene was found next to a well-traveled bridge on the upper headwaters of the Tred Avon River.  Cars were crossing the bridge incessantly while I stood on the riverbank, but no one seemed to notice the miracle of light that was occurring not more than fifty feet from the road.  Strange, isn't it?  The magic can be so close, yet most people are too busy to notice it.

After discovering this lovely scene by happenstance, I decided to take a more disciplined approach to my photography this week.  More specifically, I made sure that, camera in hand, I was near some body of tranquil water during the hour just after sunrise and the hour just before sunset, the two hours of day when the light is usually at its best, especially in mid-November.  A few of the photos taken this week are set forth below, paired with some relevant thoughts about the role that nature plays in the preservation of our sanity.

Some of these photos are representational, while others are abstract.  Each image, however, reflects that beauty than can be discovered on rivers, lakes, and ponds during the luminous days of autumn.  Enjoy!


I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
John Muir 



I'll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time.

Emily Dickinson 



You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
Desiderata



Civilization has fallen out of touch with night. With lights, we drive the holiness and the beauty of night back to the forests and the seas; the little villages, the crossroads even, will have none of it.  Are modern folk, perhaps, afraid of the night?  Do they fear the vast serenity, the mystery of infinite space, the austerity of stars?

Henry Beston,
"The Outermost House" 




There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night . . .
Rachel Carson 




Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
Lao Tzu 




Each moment of the year has its own beauty . . . a picture which was never before and shall never be seen again.
Emerson 



I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.
e.e. cummings 



I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars.
Walt Whitman 




We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.  For it can be a means of assuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.
Wallace Stegner 




When despair for the world grows in me, and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be — I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.  I come into the peace of wild things . . .


Wendell Berry 




If the only prayer you said in your life was, "thank you," that would suffice.
Meister Eckhart


Peace to everyone and thank you! 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

THE ANSWER AT 3:00 A.M.

Small Room in Hermitage Near Assisi
Where St. Francis and His Followers Often Dined and Meditated


Here is a small confession from one who aspires to move through life with the calm equanimity of a Zen master.  In recent weeks, I have allowed events beyond my control to send me into a small tailspin of despair.  It began with the unexpected death of a childhood friend whom I loved dearly, and it picked up steam with a back injury, a troublesome vitreous detachment in my right eye, an insane political season, and a number of ensuing questions in the pathetically self-centered category of "what the hell is happening to this world and my life?"

I recognize, of course, that absolutely nothing is happening in my life that has not happened before or which will not continue to happen for as long a mankind has a foothold on this fragile earth.  Everything is constantly changing and the cycle of life and death continues in ways both large and small.  The changes are increasingly personal, however, and this is why I found myself awake at three o'clock this morning, pondering the question of what I can do, other than become frustrated, angry, depressed, or all of the above.

The practical answers from Buddhism are always wise and helpful — just let go of the craving to possess that which is transitory, which is to say anything and everything.  The answers of Zen provide similar guidance — just remain detached, suspend all judgment, and allow everything to pass like water flowing over a rock. This is all great advice, undoubtedly, but at three o'clock this morning, I needed something more, something that would allow me to take a more active role in the world without trying to control things beyond my control.  It was at that point that my mind shifted to a framed prayer that has remained on a wall above my desk for almost twenty years. It is the incomparably beautiful prayer that is well known and widely attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi.  

A Simple Prayer

                               Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
                               Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
                               Where there is injury, pardon;
                               Where there is discord, unity;
                               Where there is doubt, faith;
                               Where there is error, truth;
                               Where there is despair, hope;
                               Where there is sadness, joy;
                               Where there is darkness, light.

                               O Divine Master, grant that 
                                  I may not so much seek
                               To be consoled as  to console;
                               To be understood as to understand;
                               To be loved as to love.
                               
                               For it is in the giving that we receive;
                               It is in the pardoning that we are pardoned;
                               It is in the dying that we are born to eternal life.

I acquired my hand-lettered copy of this prayer on my first visit to Assisi many years ago. Since that time, I have been blessed to find great wisdom in various religious and spiritual  traditions.  At no point, however, have I found a better blueprint for life than is found in the words of St. Francis.  My life, of course,  continues to fall woefully short of the noble ideas set forth in the prayer.  It continues to inspire me, however,  and I am convinced that it provides a path that can lead anyone — Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, or otherwise — beyond darkness and despair.






PEACE TO EVERYONE!