Kurt Vonnegut

Sin is that which separates

This is a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche – not, I must confess, a person whose writings I’ve read, nor a person with whose life philosophies I am familiar.

Truth to tell, all I really know about Nietzsche is that he memorably said, “It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them” & “We have art in order not to perish of truth” & “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

Sounds like he was kind of a smart dude, I gotta say…

Personally, being a big fan of walking (& the great ideas I often get while doing so), & also a big believer that we human beings really need a decent-sized community to belong to – to feel affirmed by – I’m at the very least a fan of these wise things Nietzsche said. (I can’t guarantee anyone I’d like or agree with each & every thing he ever said. Heck, I can’t always agree with myself from one day to another. If you’re looking for iron-clad, 100% consistency, you’ve come to the wrong place!)

Right now a debate is raging about the possible construction of an Islamic community centre near the “Ground Zero” site in New York City. I can’t believe some of the rhetoric I’m hearing from people like Sarah Palin & Newt Gingrich.

Geez – get a grip, dudes! Have you forgotten that American society (the white piece of it, anyway, during & after genocidally tromping all over the folks who’d already been living here for thousands of years), was founded by people who wanted to be able to live according to what they believed?

Don’t we all want to be able to believe what we believe, & live peacefully while doing so??

Do any of us know even two people who believe exactly the same things about…anything?? Religion. Politics. Women’s “rights.” The way children should behave. Taste in music. The weather, for heaven’s sake…

I came across this neat quotation several years ago: “The demands – heard from pole to pole, for freedom, justice, security, equality, education, a safe environment, and a better life for the world’s children – are all grounded in, and reach downward to, this elemental human need: silence, solitude, and the right to rule one’s own thoughts: the sanity of the inner life.” (Noel Peattie, poet/librarian, from the publication ‘Inner Life,’ quoted in Utne Reader Sept/Oct 2005.)

That sure resonates for me.

Now, personally I’m a “believer.” I belong to no particular religious denomination (I was raised in a nominally “Christian” & church-attending household where the non-Christian behaviour I witnessed daily was so off the charts, I kinda walked in the other direction).

I quite admire the precepts of Buddhism – but don’t consider myself Buddhist. I’m just…me. I take my wisdom wherever I happen to find it (& btw, there appears to be plenty of it – in all religions).

My ex-husband is (as far as I know, still) an atheist – married to a devout (& quite lovely) Catholic woman. My daughter, who is, shall we say, not “religious,” is married to an observant Muslim. These two rather inspiring relationships give me great faith that we grown-up human beings can actually believe whatever it is we believe about “religion” – & feel no need whatsoever to try & convince others of its “rightness.”

My son-in-law is without question one of the most peaceful & tolerant people I’ve yet had the privilege to meet here on Planet Earth. Born in Bangladesh but raised in Canada since the age of 5, he is no more a candidate for terrorism or noisy carryings-on of any kind than anyone else I know (actually, much less so!).

These two give me great faith in young people! I meet quite a few young environmental activists, too, & the common elements I so much enjoy are great flexibility & tolerance, a natural respect & recognition for the attributes & abilities (& weaknesses) of both sexes – & confidence in their ability to “change the world” – even when they’re utterly unaware that’s what they’re actually engaged in doing.

The folks I have a problem with are the ones who are fundamentalist/intolerant – whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist or…whatever.

F.R. Scott, poet & professor, said, “The world is my country. The human race is my race. The spirit of man is my God. The future of man is my heaven.”

I do believe we humans are all one tribe. And that we each have a deep need to feel we belong.

“Sin is that which separates.”

Seems like a most propitious time for all of us to “get” this. We have much bigger fish to fry than obsessing over exactly what someone else conceives of “God” to be, wouldn’t you say?

Janet

P.S. Kurt Vonnegut, a writer I mention & am reminded of frequently, always wrote about how destitute most modern human (North Americans) have become, being so cut off from our extended families. Building community is what we need to focus on – not our (mostly imagined) differences. Is it not so?

A Few Relevant Quotations:

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” Thomas Paine (Introduction to Common Sense 1776)

“The best political, social, and spiritual work we can do is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others.” – Carl Jung

“Just imagine how good it would feel if we all got together once in a while in large public gatherings and admitted that we don’t know why we are alive, that nobody knows for sure if there is a higher being who created us, and that nobody really knows what the hell’s going on here.” – Wes Nisker, meditation teacher, Inquiring Mind (Spring 2005) – quoted in Utne Reader, summer 2005

“Conflict is everywhere: water hitting rock, teachers pushing students to learn, or wolves trying to coexist with ranchers. It is our call to evolve. It challenges us to look beyond our current views to an expanded reality. It is a relentless teacher that asks us to see unity where before we found opposites.” – Deidre Combs, mediation specialist, quoted in ‘Sacred Journey’ (Feb/March 2005) – quoted in Utne Reader May/June 2005

“Our hearts are not pure; our hearts are filled with need and greed as much as with love and grace, and we wrestle with our hearts all the time. The wrestling is who we are. How we wrestle is who we are. What we want to be is never what we are. Not yet. Maybe that’s why we have these relentless engines in our chests, driving us forward toward what we might be.” – Brian Doyle, essayist, Orion Jan/Feb. 2005, quoted in Utne Reader May/June 2005

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” – Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, exiled Russian novelist, quoted in Yes! (Winter 2002) – Utne Nov-Dec 2002

“When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it. Always.” – Gandhi

“Love doesn’t just sit there like a stone: it has to be made like bread, remade all the time, made new.” – Ursula K. LeGuin

“I would not interfere with any creed of yours or want to appear that I have all the cures. There is so much to know… so many things are true… The way my feet must go may not be best for you. And so I give this spark of what is light to me, to guide you through the dark, but not tell you what to see.” – Author unknown

“To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men.” – Abraham Lincoln

“When one does not see what one does not see, one does not even see that one is blind.” – Paul Veyne

“Whatever is begun in anger ends in shame.” – Benjamin Franklin

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948)

“The miracle is this the more we share, the more we have.” ~ Leonard Nimoy

“Back on the rez, a grandfather was talking to his grandson about his feelings after the attacks. He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandfather answered, “The one that I feed.” [no idea where I got this one; so sorry!?]

“I still believe the model of the peaceful world is the potluck supper.Everyone can make a contribution, everyone can gain fellowship and nourishment, and we can all learn from one another.” – Ursula Franklin

 

You Made My Day! / We ARE the Change…

Another Toronto walking morning…

Yesterday I told a Telus customer service rep he’d made my day – because he had! Details not important (just cell phone administrivia) – but he really helped simplify my cell phone life for me, so out of my mouth popped the words “You made my day!” Later it occurred to me I might have made his day too, just by being so grateful to him, & saying so.

Then I was on a TTC (Toronto Transportation Commission) bus with a really helpful driver, & I missed my opportunity to thank him for being a good guy (his generous gesture was actually to another passenger, & I was down near the far end of the bus & exited out the rear door) – but I thought it would probably have cheered up everyone on the bus if I’d told him “Hey, Buddy – that was really nice of you!”

I think we humans are, at bottom, rather simple, really. We all want to feel – & beappreciated – don’t you think? When we feel appreciated, we can then more readily notice & celebrate other people’s goodness. A lovely, un-vicious circle.

On this morning’s walk I was passing through a schoolyard where a long cement wall has been painted with a bright, colourful mural that says, “We are the change” – & I just loved seeing that. Gandhi, of course, memorably said, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world” – & evidently these young students are being taught that they are the change.

As are we all!!

It’s a complex & pretty seriously mixed-up world (feel free to nominate me for an Understatement of the Year award, hmm?) – but happily, some things are really quite simple. And as that self-declared “old fart” Kurt Vonnegut would say, “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”(1)

Janet

'Quote of the day' w. this post: Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.” – Sign on church billboard [the sign was quoting Melody Beattie, as I learned later...]

 


(1) I love ALL of Kurt Vonnegut’s books; have been a fan of this amazing writer since the early 1970’s. The one I re-read most recently is Timequake. Vonnegut is brilliant & memorable, funny & wise, & you could sure do worse than pick up one of his books!!

 

Card Therapy (or Families: It’s All Relative!)

<March 24/10>

 

I just went shopping for a birthday card (yes, some environmental activists would no doubt frown on my “card habit.” It’s a fairly innocuous little addiction, seems to me, compared to some others I can think of).

 

I get a big kick out of looking at cards because I love laughing – & I came up with the phrase “card therapy” when I discovered some years ago now that I can cheer myself up lickety-split (& have a grand old time to boot) just spending 10 minutes looking at cards. My laughter generally even gets the store staff laughing too. (I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again – I’m a pretty cheap date!)

 

So, I found a card that made me laugh out loud, & then think some about families. Well. They sure do come in all shapes, sizes & kinds, don’t they?? Every one of them unique, every one of them almost certainly not at all what they appear to be from the outside, looking in.

 

My own “birth family” was a wee bit on the dysfunctional side. Of course they all are, as we understand now – but when I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s I laboured under the grand illusion that everyone else had it all together. I always felt like an outsider &, I suppose, an imposter – walking around acting as though everything was A-OK, meanwhile holding down the lid on the … confusion … that was my family’s life.

 

(I was fortunate enough to marry into a family that seemed to me like the very Waltons incarnate – really a very darn fine crowd of people! – & that was very nice & kind of a privilege for me for quite a few years there. Divorce took care of that, in time, although I can say with gratitude that I am still close to a number of very lovely individuals in that family.)

 

As a result of all this family-related…how shall we say, experience, all my adult life I’ve been a keen observer of this strange human animal called the “nuclear” family. Love & divorce & new relationships & friends’ families: one is endlessly being offered glimpses of the infinite variety of family configurations, our love (& hate) of them, their closeness (or lack thereof), their internal power dynamics… & the degree to which we can each probably be understood by others just by reciting a 5-minute snapshot or history of our childhood/family life.

 

My own birth family (which has always seemed to me to be pretty markedly dysfunctional, but which according to my sister was not a big deal at all. ?????) could be compared to some & seen as almost Waltonesque. (There are some pretty…hmmm….shall we say, off-the-charts families out there!) Compared to others, we look(ed) like full-on disaster. That of course is why I jokingly say it’s all relative. Pun intended…

 

I guess all this is what has made me crave all my life to be part of a (yes, fictional) “normal” family – one in which everyone gets together semi-frequently for birthdays & Mothers’ Days & Fathers’ Days & Thanksgivings & Christmases & Easters – & don’t all hate one another and, by golly, even mostly like (even love!!) one another.

 

I haven’t entirely lucked out in that department. Negotiating families of divorce can be quite challenging. Slight understatement here, hmmm? I’ve had more related experience in this regard than a person might strictly care to have had, but…perhaps the less said, the better.

 

Well.

 

The birthday card I came across that made me laugh right out loud said, “I was thinking about getting the whole family together to celebrate your birthday” – with a picture of a motley collection of people on the front of the card. You open it up & it says “But then I thought you might want to do something fun.”

 

It sure tickled my funny bone!!

 

Clearly, I am not the only person on the planet who doesn’t belong to that mythical “perfect” family, hmmm?

 

Well. I guess we all “wrestle” all our lives with the peculiarities & particular wounds of our own childhood & family, hmm? I know I continue to do so. I keep getting insights about myself – about my particular neuroses & idiosyncrasies – still! – & every time I get knocked on my butt by a new relationship drama, I learn yet a little more. (It seems a bit like an archaeological dig; one keeps on excavating unexpected things…)

 

One great lesson I’ve picked up along the way is that, while we don’t get to choose our family (on a conscious level, at least), we can find, & choose, a community – a tribe.

 

The big thinkers say alienation is the central bedeviling problem of the human race. The only way to beat that is to find a sense of belonging. Our families cannot guarantee us that, unfortunately. Once upon a time, each of us was born into a tribe. Belonging was our birthright in those days, I’m pretty sure.

 

While finding my own tribe was definitely something I did not set out to do by becoming involved in environmental work 20 years ago, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

 

And as I write down that thought, it comes to me that I didn’t just sort of miraculously find the buried treasure under the spot marked X, I’ve been helping build the tribe to which I now so joyfully, gratefully & proudly belong.

 

I read in the Utne Reader some years ago this statement attributed to Kalle Lasn & Bruce Grierson:

“Two centuries of philosophers stand in opposition to the modern American recipe for happiness and fulfillment. You can’t buy your way in. You can’t amuse yourself in. You can’t even expect falling in love to deliver you. The most promising way to happiness is, perhaps, through creativity, through literally creating a fulfilling life for yourself by identifying some unique talent or passion and devoting a good part of your energy to it, forever.”

 

Helen Keller said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

 

For me, for sure, “following my bliss” has really paid off!! The road has been full of potholes & detours & has even led me off a cliff or two…but hey!

 

Here I am, now, leading (& loving) this unexpected life – a full, never-dull life adventure for which I am wildly, wildly grateful.

 

I didn’t (& couldn’t, & can’t) re-create the Humpty Dumpty life I once had (that perfect family, perfect marriage I’d wanted so badly to last forever). Instead, I’ve become a member of a wonderful, wonderful ever-expanding tribe (with members, btw, who are often just as kooky & “dysfunctional” as everything & everyone else on the planet, myself included).

 

“Perfection” is just an illusion, hmmm?

 

I know what Kurt Vonnegut would say about it all: “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!”

 

Janet

 

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “The return from your work must be the satisfaction that work brings you and the world’s need of that work. With this, life is heaven, or as near heaven as you can get.” – W.E.B. DuBois

Anarchy, Fairy Tales & Freedom

<March 16/10>

I actually wanted to call this essay “Communism, Fairy Tales, Anarchy & Freedom,” but I know how afraid of communism most people are, so I left out that word.

I became interested in communism in my late teens, after a privileged & pretty mixed-up childhood. Money held no fascination for me whatsoever – but the idea of communities & sharing needs & abilities definitely did.

But then I got caught up in what I now look back on as the fairy tale phase of my life, & my interest in communism (politics of any kind, really) just kind of fell away.

At first during that “happily ever after” phase, I had a job in which I told myself I was “helping” people (& who knows, maybe I did even somehow sort of help one or two individuals), but the prince & princess living “happily ever after,” for me, consisted mostly of marriage & family life – which, admittedly, was pretty darn wonderful for quite a few years there. My prince & I “made one another happy” for quite a while – just not “ever after,” alas…

15 or so years into the fairy tale, a passion for environmental work overtook me (to my own great surprise) & this has led to a great many unintended consequences (a phrase I now just love; it covers such a lot of territory, doesn’t it?).

So here I sit, today, writing this on a sun-warmed rock in a lovely outcropping on a pretty hillside in southern Ontario, where I’m living for a while in this current nomadic phase of my life. No set “home” – a “foot in three camps” as I like to joke (‘though I still have only two legs!) – not knowing what may come next, nor where I am likely to land.

The marriage ultimately didn’t work out (though 20 years & two great kids are certainly nothing to sneeze at), & relationships since don’t seem to have, either. Given my own personal life/childhood history, the 5000-year run of patriarchy & its far-reaching & not necessarily well-understood impacts, women & men’s current confusions over relationships & who we are & what we want – & the state of the world in general – this is not so surprising, really.

The solitary streak in me has grown very wide. Years of living alone have made me…ever more solitary. A bit anxious when around other people’s company & routines for long stretches of time. (For some reason too, I have a positive horror of being “in the way” – some weird holdover from that … difficult childhood, I reckon. I’ll do almost anything to avoid feeling I am in the way…)

I live on a teeny-tiny income no one else I know could begin to survive on (or even want to get by on), and since money & things don’t interest me much, I don’t “have” to “work” right now. This seems to really rattle some people. (I wonder, do they resent/envy my freedom? My choices?)

I adore my current freedom – but it has & does come at some cost. Everything always does, doesn’t it? Biologist Barry Commoner(1) articulated “4 Laws of Ecology: Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Note that last one, hmm? No free lunch. We do always pay for what we get. I pay for my freedom in several ways, trust me. (We all pay for our choices, hmmm?)

Well, for the past few years I’ve begun thinking of myself as a bit of an anarchist. Like communist, the word “anarchist” seems to frighten people. (Imagine grown-ups being afraid of mere words & concepts; a bit silly, isn’t it?)

The Collins dictionary available to me here defines an anarchist as 1. A person who advocates the abolition of government and a social system based on voluntary cooperation. 2. A person who causes disorder or upheaval. Kurt Vonnegut has a character in his novel Jailbird say “Anarchists are people who believe with all their hearts that governments are enemies of their own people.”(2)

Works for me!

Anarchism-Abbey

All I know is, things on Planet Earth don’t seem to be working too very well. Ya think? Our air is foul, our waters polluted, & much of our Earth now toxic. As the planet sickens, so do we. (Know anyone with cancer? I rest my case.)

A clever quotation I’ve run across goes “There isn’t a problem with the system. The system is the problem.”

Capitalism & “democracy” don’t quite seem to be doing the trick, do they? (Like Christianity, real democracy remains mostly un-tried. (3))

I keep meaning to write an essay called “What is Missing?” & maybe I will finally get to it.

What is missing, in my view, are 2 things:

  1. Deep, deep gratitude for this unbelievably awesome, generous wondrous Earth we’ve been given;
  2. Community. Tribe. Belonging

If we all begin working on these two big pieces of the puzzle that you might call Earth Falling Apart in 2010, I think a lot of pretty cool stuff would start happening. (Of course, lots of cool stuff is already happening!! There are tons of people working away on this stuff as we speak.(4))

Of course, I do not possess a crystal ball. Seems to me this whole shebang could “blow” at any time. Of course, that’s an excellent argument for practicing gratitude, living fully in the present moment, & building community. We might as well keep our focus on what really matters in life, since there are no guarantees about what will happen around the next bend. I have a suspicion that the less we focus now on what really matters, the nastier it’s liable to be.

So sayeth I, your friendly local anarchist. One who is trying hard to bring us all back to the really, really simple things: gratitude, community and circles.

Janet

p.s. There are many essays about gratitude on this blog. Only because it’s the primo, most important & perhaps most left-out thing going on Planet Earth. And because it’s free & wonderfully rewarding & liable to lead, when practiced faithfully, to much happier lives & communities & families – & even a healthier planet… No kidding!!

‘Quote of the day’  with this post: “…as the Buddha told his cousin Ananda, the whole of the holy life is good friends. Our relationships – and our love – are ultimately what give depth and meaning to our lives.” – Joan Halifax in Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death.

My first idea for ‘Quote of the Day: “The aesthetic indictment of industrialism is perhaps the least serious. A much more serious feature is the way in which it forces men, women and children to live a life against instinct, unnatural, unspontaneous, artificial. Where industry is thoroughly developed, men are deprived of the sight of green fields and the smell of earth after rain; they are cooped together in irksome proximity, surrounded by noise and dirt, compelled to spend many hours a day performing some utterly uninteresting and monotonous mechanical task. Women are, for the most part obliged to work in factories, and to leave to others the care of their children. The children themselves, if they are preserved from work in the factories, are kept at work in school, with an intensity that is especially damaging to the best brains. The result of this life against instinct is that industrial populations tend to be listless and trivial, in constant search of excitement, delighted by a murder, and still more delighted by a war.” [Ouch!] Bertrand Russell – June 1921 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.


(1) From the Center for Biological Systems & author of Making Peace with the Planet

(2) Jailbird, by Kurt Vonnegut, Dell, 1979. Page 216.

(3) If you think Canada is a democracy, then I think you are not really paying attention! And if you think dumping Harper – the best prime minister oil money can buy – for Ignatieff would make a whole lot of difference, you are REALLY not paying attention… ***** Lots of great quotes about politics & democracy here.

(4) Paul Hawken’s wonderful book Blessed Unrest is very eloquent & inspiring on this score.

Funny (& Smart) Things Friends Have Said...

<written April 5/09>

I have an amazing circle of women friends. Plato said “Your wealth is where your friends are,” & his insight explains my considerable wealth.

My friends are awesome. Women are awesome. (Men are pretty cool too, but that’s a different essay, hmmm?)

My friends are smart. They say some amazingly astute things sometimes. Some very, very irreverent things sometimes too. As do I. I’m not going to quote the hilarious stuff a friend & I said one time about 2 x 4’s. Not fit for a family publication, as they say… This same friend once also hilariously said “Diarrhea will humiliate us all” & I just about fainted, I laughed so hard. This woman is smart, pretty, compassionate, wise & incredibly generous-spirited. How I’d get by without her friendship, I can’t even begin to imagine…

Another friend said something recently that I really, really liked hearing.

I want to preface what follows with the comment that some of my friends & I have been through some seriously challenging times in the past, oh, six months & one or five or ten or 15 years. Details not important, hmmm?

M. said she’d realized that, although she’d love to have a man in her life, she knows she is (& has) everything with or without one.

What a powerful (& perhaps rare) realization this is…

This woman is a delight. She’s been through really hard times in her life – yet she is joyful & cheerful & open & loving, & she just keeps right on growing & changing & being a great person & friend. Among other things, she knows the power of yoga & music & dancing & singing & walking, & she’s the one who introduced me to the great Louise Hay DVD ‘You Can Heal Your Life.’

I’ve done quite a bit of musing (a fair bit of writing too) about patriarchy in the past few years. Eventually, maybe, I’ll post my essay ‘Patriarchy Sucks’ & maybe I’ll publish my “Letters to Rebecca: Musings on motherhood…& feminism & patriarchy & female/male relationships & the state of the world…” book (it has lots of musings about patriarchy in it).

Meanwhile, the quick & dirty on women thinking we are “incomplete” without a man?

Hah!

I like having a man in my life (I like it a lot!) – but only if the relationship is authentic. Characterized by trust, honesty & talking (not to mention plenty of laughter; gotta be able to laugh, hmm?).Not always possible, apparently… (I think I will wonder to my dying day why laughter becomes such an early casualty in relationships. Thank God we women laugh so much when we’re together…)

I think I may have shocked someone recently when I declared (quite without meaning to; sometimes these things just rocket right out of my mouth), “I can live without a man, but I can’t live without chocolate.”

But it happens to be true! (maybe I could learn to live without chocolate. But…why would I want to?? There is a limit, surely, to what we must learn to live without?)

Anyway. This little essay didn’t go where I intended at all (& I haven’t even scratched the surface of smart & funny things friends have said). But I had fun writing it, &, as Kurt Vonnegut would have me say, if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is…

Janet

P.S. on May 23/10. Here's something clever (& funny!! It's a 2-for-1 deal) good friend Barb said the other day: "I'd rather have my flaws staring me right in the face, than biting me in the butt." Gotta love that one...

‘Quote of the day’ w. this post: “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” ~ Douglas Adams

Down Day. Not for long!

<written Sept. 21/09>

Feeling pretty dreary today. Not sure why. Quite a few possible “causes,” which out of great consideration, I will spare you, Gentle Reader…

Didn’t feel like writing at all. Thought maybe I’d gone dry.

Read a very neat poem I dug out of the recesses of my knapsack. By William Stafford. It’s called ‘A Ritual to Read to Each Other.’ Wow. (Thanks for that one, Phil!!)

Read over a few journal entries. Listened to some cheery, sing-y music at my new local coffee spot. Was reminded of some great books & writers who always cheer me up (or, alternatively, inspire me & make me get off my butt. The list of these grows ever longer, thankfully!).

& another lovely poem, this one by Robertson Davies, called ‘Do Something for Somebody Quick’ (pasted in below).

& felt miraculously cheered up.

Wow! That down mood sure didn’t last very long.

Something to be grateful for. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Janet

Do Something for Somebody Quick!

There’s an excellent rule I have learned in life’s school,

And I’m ready to set it before you.

When you’re heavy at heart and your world falls apart,

Do not pity yourself, I implore you.

No, up with your chin, meet bad luck with a grin,

And try this infallible trick.

It never will fail you, whatever may ail you –

DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEBODY QUICK!

OH –

Do something for somebody quick,

It will banish your cares in a tick.

Don’t fret about you – there’s a good deed to do –

DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEBODY QUICK!

Robertson Davies in Murhter & Walking Spirits

Courage, Apathy...& Evil

*** Quotes on courage here! <March 18/10>

I’m reading a book called Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa,(1) by Antjie Krog. Bit of a tough read, at times – but very well-written, provocative & rife with interesting thoughts, insights & quotations. Rough because one learns in detail some of the horrific acts of violence & cruelty visited upon so many citizens of South Africa in the apartheid era. Its recounting of the operations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes for fascinating reading (parenthetical thought: I ought to let the author know of my deep appreciation for her book!).

We human beings are certainly a curious lot. We can be so marvellous, generous, compassionate, creative, loving & wise – & by the same token, so thoughtless, self-absorbed (2), cruel, violent, homicidal, and … dare I say, evil?

I will leave it to the philosophers to debate whether or not evil really exists. (though I personally feel we are a bit short of time here on Planet Earth for long-winded philosophical debate & time-consuming study; seems to me more like a time for concerted ACTION.)

I will add that I have encountered my fair share of nasty (even homicidal & sociopathic & kind of scary) characters in my time – in a professional capacity, shall we say – so I am not unfamiliar altogether with the sheer nastiness capacity of some human beings…

Anyway, whether or not evil exists, I will say that I think the apathy of so many people I know & meet – in the face of the most serious & horrendous crisis our species has ever known – borders, to my way of thinking, on evil. (Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I rest my case…)

It frightens me.

It astonishes me that most people I know would be more upset to hear me describe myself as an anarchist (3) than they would to hear that our robot-man prime minister is quite knowingly destroying a huge swath of Canada (read up on the tar sands ) in the name of profits for his corporate buddies (George Monbiot has described Canada as a ‘corrupt petrostate’).

It surprises me that the thing most people seem most curious about when they ask me about my sit-in/arrest experience last Nov. 30th, just before the Copenhagen meetings, is what it was like to have to wear a diaper all day. They are dying to ask me whether or not I peed in it. (The answer, for the record, is no. I skipped my morning coffee that day, which for caffeine addict me was frankly the most challenging aspect of the whole experience!) But the experience wasn’t so much about using a diaper as about getting outside my comfort zone – something I think a lot more of us need to start doing.

I know there are a lot of reasons for our apathy.

But it scares me.

I heard a report on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio yesterday, on ‘The Current Review.’ It was about a TV show in which participants were asked to cause fellow participants to be given electric shocks. Apparently, most did order the shocks.

What kind of people are we?

It worries me.

Author Antjie Krog asks in Country of My Skull (in reference to the goings-on in South Africa during the apartheid years, & afterward, during the time of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which began operating in December 1995), “What the hell does one do?”(4)

& I wrestle with this question myself, pretty much daily. What the hell does one do?

I am not a philosopher, dear Reader, nor any kind of “expert” nor (supposedly) brilliant scientist.

I’m a woman, mother, environmental activist & writer (a person who is unpaid for the work I do; that’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact) – & I am no longer confident about the ability of our species to survive.

We have made/are making such a frightful botch of things.

Still & all, what is one to do??

Throw up our hands?

I say, Take action.

Let’s raise our voices.

Let’s quit stepping over the elephants in the room, & start calling them.

Let’s grow some courage. Grow some balls...as it were. Shake things up a little.

In Country of My Skull, Chilean philosopher & activist, José Zalaquett (who served on the Chilean Truth Commission) is quoted as saying, “The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another name for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values. Merciless. Accountable.”(5)

Wow.

I wonder, might we all try growing a little more courage in the face of the grave dangers now facing us? I surely do hope so….

Janet

p.s. A buddy of mine said to me in an e-mail message recently, in reference to the sorts of people who defended tobacco use until they were finally wrestled to the ground, & the people who were responsible for trashing the ozone layer (fully aware, btw, that they were doing so), & the ones who are now defending the oil business with their criminal conspiracy (do read Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, by James Hoggan, with Richard Littlemore), “These big business issues, like the pro-smoking debacle, are beyond my capacity to understand – it’s like there is a parallel universe of animal things that look like humans but behave like something else.” Rather nicely put, Richard!!

I’d say it’s time we turfed out politicians who look & act like robots (& criminals), & bring in some real human beings for a change!!

p.p.s. Shortly after I scrawled this essay, riding the GO bus to Oshawa, I resumed reading Country of my Skull. Author Antjie Krog relates on page 159 that just before midnight on May 10th, 1997 (the deadline for amnesty applications), “six black youths walk into the Truth Commission’s offices in Cape Town.” She goes on to explain that they had decided at the last minute to apply for amnesty because they had realized it had been wrong of them to be apathetic, & do nothing. “So, here we stand as a small group representative of millions of apathetic people who didn’t do the right thing.”

Wow...

Quote of the Day’ with this post: “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.


(1) Times Books/Random House, 1998.

(2) I have a very rude name for a condition I feel all too many of us suffer from. “Terminal heads-up-our-own arses” disease. (Sorry; I did try to warn you!)

(3) The Collins dictionary defines anarchist as 1. A person who advocates the abolition of government and a social system based on voluntary cooperation. 2. A person who causes disorder or upheaval. Kurt Vonnegut has a character in his novel Jailbird say “Anarchists are people who believe with all their hearts that governments are enemies of their own people.” I think a lot of us are anarchists, by this latter definition…

(4) Page 118.

(5) Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow & the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa, by Antjie Krog, Times Books/Random House 1998. Page 32.

If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!

<written Sept. 4/09>

So I’m sitting on a bench by the river, in my new town.

It’s a stunner of a morning. Clear as anything. Sun rising behind me, river lapping in front of me. I’ll resume my walk shortly.

Just wanted to say this: My circumstances are very different from what they were 5 days ago. I’ve moved from a house of my own (living on my own) into a basement room in the home of friends – major downsizing!!

And this town isn’t nearly as pretty or stunning as the one I left, 40 kms up the river.

But this is a beautiful morning, and I’m bursting with gratitude for the incredible generosity of the folks who’ve taken me in – & for this beautiful day – & for the fact that I can be joyful wherever I am.

Kurt Vonnegut – a brilliant writer who died a few years ago & whom I’ve read and admired for close to 40 years – said we humans (who are hard at work trashing the planet; he was never one to mince words about that) need to be grateful more. We need to say, as often as possible, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So, I do.

I could focus on what is no more – lost relationships & opportunities, imperfect circumstances of all kinds – but that’s not what I choose to do. I focus on here & now, & all I have to be grateful for, & this helps me let go of a lot of the mind nonsense that enslaves so many of us.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh said, “There is only one courage, and that is the courage to go on dying to the past. Not to collect it, not to accumulate it, not to cling to it. We all cling to the past, and because we cling to it we become unavailable to the present.”

Julia Butterfly Hill said, “When I pray, I ask for guidance in my life to be the best person I can be, to learn what I need to learn, and to grow from what I learn. Always when I pray, I ask to let go. Letting go is the hardest part.”

Sylvia Robinson said, “Some people think it’s holding on that makes one strong. Sometimes it’s letting go.”

Michael Lerner said, “Energy always flows either toward hope, community, love, generosity, mutual recognition, and spiritual aliveness or it flows toward despair, cynicism, fear that there is not enough, paranoia about the intentions of others, and a desire to control.”

We never, never, never know what’s coming at us around the next bend. Could be a cancer diagnosis, could be an earthquake/hurricane/tornado/flood. Could be the death of a dearly loved person – or the loss of a highly cherished relationship, or…worse. Planetary-level disasters of one kind or another. (Or, on the other hand, something wonderful, like a new relationship starting. Whatever!) We don’t know

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.” I saw this on a church billboard one time. It’s true, & it’s pretty darn magical!

May the “force” of gratitude be with us all!!

Janet

 

Life Philosophy (as of Dec. 10/09)

<Dec. 10/09>

Interesting times, hmmm? On the planet (economic crises, hunger crises, refugee crises, water crises, climate CRISIS; Copenhagen COP15 U.N. meetings taking place as I draft this), & also in my personal life (my family & friends would agree I seem to have a perennially anything-other-than-boring life…).

As many of us know, there is a Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” Our blessing, and our curse, hmm?

Well. I promised my up-to-date life philosophy, so here goes:

I think we’re mostly here to learn & to grow & to love each other – and to keep on getting better & better at all three.

(Dr.) Rachel Naomi Remen said in her awesome book Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories that Heal, “Life is the ultimate teacher, but it is usually through experience and not scientific research that we discover its deepest lessons. A certain percentage of those who have survived near-death experiences speak of a common insight which afforded a glimpse of life’s basic lesson plan. We are all here for a single purpose: to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better. We can do this through losing as well as through winning, by having and by not having, by succeeding or failing. All we need to do is to show up openhearted for class. So fulfilling life’s purpose may depend more on how we play than what we are dealt.” (1)

I think she got that very right.

Writer Anne Lamott said in her lovely book Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith (quoting her minister, I believe), “…the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people,” she said, “you bring them juice and graham crackers.”

I think she’s right too.

In Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing & Life, Lamott said “E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.” (Ms. Lamott is just plain chockfull of words of wisdom, as you can see…)

I do not think we human beings are here to

  • work ourselves to death
  • amass great fortunes or piles of “stuff”
  • kill one another or destroy the planet
  • break our backs trying to “look good”
  • break our backs trying to be “bigshots”
  • make others like us (in both senses of that expression: make people fond of us, or make them act & believe the way we do).

I do believe we’re here to love one another, grow spiritually (don’t worry, you non-believers; you can do this without faith in any kind of deity), contribute in positive, life-affirming ways to our fellow human creatures/the Earth, heal ourselves & the planet.

Evolve as a species away from violence, greed, & terminal self-absorption and toward generosity of spirit, love, compassion & all that other fine stuff.

Call me ‘Pollyanna’ & naïve as heck; it doesn’t bother me in the slightest!!

I personally have spent many years as a mother & environmental advocate/activist/writer, and will very likely continue in this vein. This is clearly not only my “calling” in life, this stuff totally turns my crank!!!

In the face of all kinds of crises, both the current & looming variety, I will also continue to advocate:

  • building community
  • finding (& sharing) our personal “gift”
  • being ourselves, being authentic
  • having authentic relationships
  • knowing our “wealth” lies primarily in our relationships (Plato said “Your wealth is where your friends are” & we don’t seem to be able to top him there.)
  • investigating helpful spiritual teachers/writings/practices/words of wisdom
  • living in the moment; in the present, in the very, very Here & Now
  • living life to the fullest!!

Music, love, Nature, laughter…fun!! Life is a joyous, precious gift, Dear Reader – not some serious & fun-less funeral dirge!

There is a Buddhist saying, “Life is a joyful participation in a world of sorrows.”

How to live our lives, so we can promote our own (& everyone’s) health, healing, well-being; the health & growth & evolution of our species?

In the face of deaths – both “personal” & perhaps even that of our own as a species – how are we to act?

I think, with courage…conviction…energy…compassion…love…generosity…determination…kindness…feistiness… unselfishness…dignity…& most especially, gratitude.

I believe we are each capable of moving mountains when we act with courage & conviction(2) – always allowing our conscience to be an ever-present force within us – & then, as they say, “detaching from the outcome.”

The results of our actions are out of our control.

Act, then let go

And whatever else we may do, celebrate this great wondrous spectacle of Life & Earth!

(And say, as often as humanly possible – in memory of that brilliant, thoughtful, irascible & wildly articulate old Pall smoker, the writer Kurt Vonnegut – “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!”)

Janet

A Few Relevant Quotations:

“I know what the greatest cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.” Henry Miller

“Truth comes only to those who must have it, who want it badly enough. And gifts of healing come only to those willing to change.” – Doris Janzen Longacre in the Foreword to her book “Living More with Less”

“Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.

“Change is never inevitable, change is always carried in on the shoulders of those who bring change with them.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out of his conscience, thus helping to bring the collective conscience to life.” ~ Norman Cousins

“The single most important contribution any of us can make to the planet is a return to frugality.” Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN

“The saving of the world from impending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of the non-conforming minority.” – Martin Luther King

“Almost anything you do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Choice is so important because it actually constitutes what it means to be a person.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“…you also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” – Joanna Macy & Molly Young Brown in ‘Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World’ (New Society Publishers, 1998).

“If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear. People who can open up to the web of life that called us into being.” – Joanna Macy

“We do not need to protect ourselves from change, for our very nature is change.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“But now comes the daunting revelation, that we are all called to be saints – not good necessarily, or pious or devout – but saints in the sense of just caring for each other.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal’

“Energy always flows either toward hope, community, love, generosity, mutual recognition, and spiritual aliveness or it flows toward despair, cynicism, fear that there is not enough, paranoia about the intentions of others, and a desire to control.” ~ Michael Lerner, quoted in ‘The Great Turning – From Empire to Earth Community,’ by David Korten


(1) More on this book in the posting ‘Book & Bed Day.'

(2) One hopes that everyone’s courage & convictions do not involve murder & mayhem – or even selfishness, intolerance & inflexibility; for my part, I fail to see how such things can help us move forward as individuals, or as a species…

Self-Help Books

<July 24/09>

The genre of self-help books has exploded in recent years. I myself have read a ton of them – & for sure, there are plenty I am happy to give a big “thumb's up.”

I’m sure there are people who scoff at this phenomenon; who wonder how much good all these books are doing. After all, the world still seems to be in a pretty fearsome mess, doesn’t it? We seem to be perched like lemmings on the edge of a cliff. (Hmm. Not so much on the edge as throwing ourselves off it…)

But I see the phenomenon as very healthy – & very poignant. Clearly, many of us realize we’re all mixed up. That things aren’t working – in the world, & in our own lives.

We are uneasy – dissatisfied – unhappy. We know there has to be something more.

We come to our personal crises through a variety of doorways. We get sick – or get fired – or our partner/spouse dumps us – or maybe we get tired of feeling as though we’re only half-alive.

I came through the door of environmental activism – & then the unexpected end of a 20-year marriage that was a very good one for 17 of those years.

Environmental activism did/has done/continues to do a lot for me. For one not-so-small thing, it led me to be re-acquainted with the beauty of our world – this precious Earth.

And in reading about the environmental crisis – reading books by big thinkers like Thomas Berry & others, I came to understand that the environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis. It’s not really about filling the oceans with garbage & toxic waste, & the air with pollution & the earth itself with garbage & poisons – although that’s what we’ve done & continue on our merry way to do.

It’s about what it is in us that causes us to do these things – allows us to carry on this way.

Ever since I was about 14 years old, I’ve felt the need to try & “help” the world, & to be a part of something bigger than myself; for sure, environmental activism helps me do that.

Self-help books have helped me understand my own psychology, my own neuroses & personal pitfalls (& their likely origins) – & by extension, those of my fellow human beings.

So, at the drop of a hat, I can rhyme off the names of, oh, 20 or 30 self-help books I’ve found very, very useful.

Each of them has given me, at the very least, one significant nugget of insight & understanding. Each of the writers has helped shine an illuminating shaft of light into my own behaviour/soul & more generally, human behaviour/the human soul.

So I don’t take the proliferation of self-help books lightly at all – & since reading books has been just about my salvation in this life, I’ll probably keep right on reading & recommending books that I think can really help others.

With one caveat.

I personally believe that until we devote ourselves/our lives to forces much more powerful than our own – a picture that is very much bigger than our own little lives & our immediate circle of acquaintances/loved ones – all the self-help books in the world cannot “save” us.

I’m not going to try to tell anyone else what that “big picture” consists of – how you can break into it – nor will I suggest that everybody ought to become an environmental activist (although that would surely be grand!)

I know quite well that we all have to figure out quite a lot for ourselves in this life. There doesn’t seem to be any way around that, although reading excellent books can certainly be a great un-locker of our soul’s secrets & desires & repressed emotions.

I can say that a greater appreciation of Nature can take each one of us a very long way. A 20-minute (or longer!) daily walk can do wonders. (In my view, this is best done alone, & with nothing inserted into one’s ears.) Even cities have parks & trees, sky & clouds, birds & other critters one can learn to appreciate & feel cheered by.

When we learn to really appreciate Nature/the Earth, we begin to “get” that it’s a gift, & a treasure, & a privilege to be living on such a stunning, orbiting ball of beauty & abundance – living always in the radiance of the sun that is, count ‘em, 93 million miles away – & without which we couldn’t function for five minutes!

This can crack us open to the realization that, no matter how many personal neuroses & foibles & problems we may have, we are all part of something very vast indeed.

And then the self-help books can send us on a path of “spiritual” growth that will bring it home to us that, when we help the world, we are helping ourselves, & when we make the effort to grow spiritually & help ourselves, we are simultaneously also helping the world.

And as Kurt Vonnegut might have us say, “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Janet

p.s. In addition to reading lots of books & ruminating plenty, I’ve been to counsellors on several occasions, & have also taken advantage of some very worthwhile workshops. You can read about these in the blog item ‘3 Great Opportunities for Personal Growth’ & the ‘Landmark Experience’ essay.

There are also two lists of recommended reading found under the ‘Recommended’ tab of the blog. Neither is a full listing of all the really good books I’ve read; by now, there are many I’ve read & forgotten about – but there is plenty of good stuff there…

My New 10 Commandments (well, 14, actually…)

<July 10/09>

1. Inasmuch as possible, do your best not to ADD to the world’s pain.(1) 2. Do your very, very best never to USE people. 3. Do your best not to indulge in idle gossip & speculation. 4. Strive to always be the “Big You,” not the “little you.” 5. Eat organic. 6. Wash feet before bed (this one is easy). Teeth too, if at all possible. (This is harder, especially if one has chosen to consume a chocolate bar in bed.) 7. Learn to stop going down “bad roads.” (Infinitely, infinitely more challenging…) 8. Do your best never to be the slightest bit smug or self-satisfied; to feel superior at all, or somehow outside that roller coaster-y soap opera Life so often seems to consist of. We all have our role in the soap opera… 9. Say “Whatever!” a lot. (It really helps. So does “It is what it is.”) 10. Do lots of yoga and meditation; this is very, very good for us. (And when I finally start following my own good advice, I’ll find out for sure. Meanwhile, DO read Buddhist writers – & other writers who are honest, & funny, & compassionate, & self-deprecating & wise – because Buddhist ideals are really, really, really wonderful & useful, & habits of non-judgment & compassion will really take the human race (or even just me) a very long way – & besides, life doesn’t get any better than reading books by writers who make us laugh…& think…& who help us feel less alone, less broken.)

Note: I will probably find another one or two & eventually end up with at least a “baker’s dozen” of useful “commandments.” Watch for it!

And btw too, I’ll be sure to send up a flare when I finally run across someone who is perfect…okay?

Ah. Here we go…

11. Say THANK YOU as often as you possibly can. Be grateful (gratitude is magical). Kurt Vonnegut said in one of his final books that we should try to say, as often as possible, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!” 12. Whenever humanly possible, accept invitations from friends to walk/have coffee/lunch/supper/spend time at their cottage. Friends & family times are the very BEST times!! 13. Whenever humanly possible, hang laundry outside in the wind & sun. It’s pleasurable to hang it, enjoyable to watch it blowing on the line & awesome to smell when you take the clothes off the line later & fold them. Ahhhhhhh. Life’s simple pleasures… 14. Don’t forget to breathe

Janet


(1) Especially the pain of children. Could we PLEASE all stop being un-mindful of the innocent & wondrous & terribly vulnerable nature of children?? Our own, & everyone else’s? And do our very, very best to treat them well? All of them??

Julie Johnston of GreenHeart Education also feels very passionate about looking after children. Please check out her blog - her Compassionate Climate Action blog. She has some great stuff there about why climate change - & children - should be motivating us ALL to do a whole lot more. It's here...