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Psychotherapist David Haviland talks about the best ways to manage anger.
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
The family was sitting in front of our food, awaiting inspiration for some sort of prayer before the meal. We never know what form the prayer will take. It can be a song, or an ee cummings poem, or a zen gatha. Sometimes the prayer is simply a moment of silence holding hands. After some moments at the table, the six-year old, a nephew visiting from France, spoke up with his painfully charming French accent.
"I want to talk about what I'm grateful for."
As he uttered the words, the atmosphere in the room seemed to become more rarified, like we had emerged from fog into mountain sunlight. Everyone felt the rightness of the suggestion each person spoke, formulating an expression of gratitude. Mostly, these referred to what was present here and now—appreciation for being together with people we love, sharing a meal, and being alive.
When it was my turn to speak I found that I felt thankful for the boy's invitation to be grateful. The suggestion had brought warmth into my heart and recognition of abundance, so that's what I said.
"That's a good one," the little boy commented, and my gratitude increased.
Since that evening, I've taken gratitude as a theme, considering where I feel it naturally and where appreciation is supplanted by less abundant emotions like resentment, impatience, dissatisfaction, and regret. When I notice these creeping in, I sometimes remember that gratitude is a possibility, and gratitude comes to light.
I am left with the impression that gratitude and recognition of abundance in the moment is the normal, native condition, like the natural state of pure water, clear and translucent, that becomes muddy only when turbulence disturbs sediment at the bottom.
I see that gratitude is not a result of having something to be grateful for. Gratitude is a disposition of being in contact with and naturally appreciating what is, with what is right. The opposite of this disposition is dwelling on what isn't, focusing on what's wrong. The reality is that what's lacking is an illusion. The notion of what's lacking is a construct. It isn't real.
For instance, when I am with what is, I can appreciate the person in front of me. I see what the person means when they speak, and that the thing the person sees is true in the way they see it, even if I see something else. When I really understand what someone else sees, I cannot disagree with them. When I acknowledge that others see something true, I am able to connect that truth with the truth of what I see, and form a larger body of truth.
A long time ago, I had a teacher who was fond of aphorisms. He even wrote them, creating a distillate from otherwise long-winded advice. One that I recall was a mere three words long. It said: Gratitude increases capacity.
Perceiving and appreciating what is, I observe that I open to a subtle or pronounced enthusiasm. When I am filled with some of this finer emotion of appreciation and gratitude, it increases the energy and force available to suffer, feel joy, and work towards an aim. Capacity is increased.
The message of the boy at the table coincided a day later with a conversation with my friend and colleague, Ralph. He told me that he has been doing an exercise of writing down three things for which he is grateful at the end of every day and found the practice helpful. It was clear I needed to try this, so I took it up. The results are subtle but pronounced.
Each night I write three things for which I am grateful, and as a result I'm on the lookout for things to write in my journal all day, seeking objects for which to be grateful. In the evening, I write about what I've collected.
So, given that it's past midnight and we go to print with this issue tomorrow morning, I will do the exercise here and now.
1. I'm grateful for Ralph and the colleagues I work with publishing this magazine (see the masthead for details). These amazing people work hard and with profound dedication and creativity day after day, deadline after deadline. I am honored and to work in this milieu.
2. I'm grateful to have work that allows me to promote and amplify the creative and cultural life of this rich network of communities, and to have the privilege of contributing meaning and participating in the cultural commons of the Hudson Valley.
3. As I sit here listening to the peepers outside my window, feeling the cool, end-of-summer air, I'm grateful for the privilege of living in this paradise. The Hudson Valley is a place among places, so beautiful, and full of inspired people, businesses, and organizations cocreating a community and way of living for which everyone can feel grateful.
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"Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love."
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The path through the forest was set with raw stones. I was walking barefoot in the manner of pilgrims, and my callouses were thin. I tried to step on the rocks that were smoother than the sharp-pebbled spaces between, though the stones were hot, having baked in the South Indian sun all day. It was like walking a gauntlet and the pain evoked an acute awareness of my feet during the trek through the forest to Ramana's cave on Mount Arunachala.
An opening along the way granted a view of Tiruvanamali below, with its colorful masses of people, cars and motorcycles, and chai wallahs on every block. I could see from far above the city that most traffic was in a perpetual standstill, stopped by decorated cows walking leisurely through the streets munching flower garlands off the front of city buses with passengers waiting patiently. In fact, the whole city and the vast Annamalaiyar Temple with thousands of trippy, perfectly sculpted gods posted on high tower walls, and the Tamil Nadu landscape stretching to the horizon, looked perfectly still, while a cacophony of horns and engines rose from the apparent stillness. The scene embodied the persistent quality of beautiful contradiction that is India.
I was following a path I had already traveled several times in previous days. It led to the cave that Ramana Maharshi, a 20th-century Indian saint, had meditated in for 17 years. Only when insects began devouring his flesh, and his disciples insisted, did he relocate to the ashram several miles down the mountain. Since then, the cave has been a site of pilgrimage. After several visits, I understood why it is considered holy. The cave and surrounding area emanate a palpable, almost electric energy.
Sitting in the darkness of Ramana's cave, I lost track of time. The atmosphere of the place was not only energetic but seemed to impart a tacit teaching about the practice of meditation. I found there that presence in breath became mostly effortless, certainly in comparison with the struggles I encountered on my meditation cushion at home. The teaching was that meditation is in equal measures an effort of concentration and an impartial seeing; genuine striving with no hint of seeking results.
After some hours I left the cave, very clear and high, to see the elongated shadows of dusk in the forest. A group of monkeys sat listlessly on a branch and one seemed to lift its arm and point to a place opposite the trail which led back to the ashram. Following the line of the monkey's crooked finger I saw some words spray painted on a rock—"TO THE TOP." I took the sign as a sign and immediately walked in the direction it indicated. There was an opening in the bushes and I slipped through, following a trail that traversed the mountain and led upward.
Rising only about 2,500 feet, Mount Arunachala is the sacred mountain of South India, like Mount Kailash to the north. There is an ever-present throng of orange-clad, dreadlocked sanyasin, renuncite s who never stay in the same place for more than one night, camped at its base. Pilgrims travel from all over India to ritually circumambulate the mountain. I had done this with my kids the day before at dawn, and now I found myself going toward the peak.
Venturing out on the trail, over boulders and up steep, scrabbly inclines, I emerged from the trees and looked up and down. That was the moment of the first doubt, as I realized that after an hour of walking I was only about a quarter of the way up. I continued, stepping upward with energy waning. My feet were bleeding and I was tired and thirsty. I stood and rested, and passed out for a moment, catching myself on a limb in time to prevent a careen down a steep slope.
Then the real hopelessness set in. I flagellated myself for getting into this predicament—barefoot, dehydrated, and passing out alone on a mountain. It seemed like another example of everything heedless and irresponsible about my life. As I considered giving in to defeat and retreating, I looked to my left and saw a skinny dog sitting on a ledge midway up a cliff face. Hopelessness was briefly replaced with wondering how the dog had gotten there.
At that moment, something awoke in my breast. It was an energy, and a wish to climb. The emptiness I felt seemed to become magnetized with where I was going, the summit. In that moment, the effort changed from forcing my way upward, against the slope and altitude, to being pulled, as it were, toward the object of an aim.
This was the treasure I found, and brought home from Mount Arunachala.
Kinderhook-based nonprofit The Sylvia Center is planting seeds for the next generation of healthy eaters, cooks, and food justice advocates.
Just as nature moves through seasons of activity, dormancy, death, and rebirth, so too does the Jewish calendar flow through an annual cycle of renewal. The Jewish High Holidays are celebrated surrounding the autumnal equinox, marking an important transition.
"After the intense heat and activity of summer, we turn to Fall and begin the return inwards," explains Shir Yaakov Feit, founder of Kol Hai, a Jewish Renewal spiritual community based in New Paltz. "It is a time for introspection—a process of taking account and making new intentions."
The unofficial start to the High Holiday cycle is the month called Elul which runs this year from August 11 through September 9. Elul is an acronym for the Hebrew verse from the Song of Songs, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." The relational quality of this phrase characterizes the theme of the month, Shir Yaakov explains. "The whole month is dedicated to looking at which relationships may need repair. This could be your relationship to God, your partner, your family, the planet, or to yourself." He uses a metaphor to explain this period of self-assessment. "Before the reboot of the High Holidays, we review our past year and ask ourselves, 'What apps do I really want to be running?'"This time of reflection is a preparation for the rebirth signified by Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and the setting of new intentions. "What we become aware of in Elul, we give name to in Rosh Hashanah," Shir Yaakov says.
The two-day festival of Rosh Hashanah is a celebratory, transcendent time. At Kol Hai, the services the first evening and following morning are filled with music, Torah readings, meditation and poetry. On the second day, the community heads into nature to hear the call of the shofar—the ram's horn, which is blasted 100 times. "The shofar is a prayer without words. It calls our souls to wake to something deeper even than language," Shir Yaakov says. "We are trying to bring new life into the world, new justice, new peace."
Following the celebration of Rosh Hashanah is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar—Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is often called the "day of atonement," though Shir Yaakov prefers to refer to it as the "day of at-one-ment," when people connect with an unblemished spiritual energy. "We recognize the gift of soul, and connect with the part of us that has always been part of the divine and always will be."
In keeping with Kol Hai's tradition of music-filled, joyful community services, the atmosphere during Yom Kippur is one of forgiveness, compassion, and rejuvenation.
After the cleansing and rebirth of the High Holidays comes Sukkot, a weeklong full moon harvest celebration, in which temporary leafy structures open to the sky are built outside. "We share meals and song and celebrate. The structure is a creche, a cradle, to protect us in our newborn state. We celebrate the fragility and mystery of new life," Shir Yaakov says.
KOL HAI HIGH HOLIDAYS 2018
High Meadow School
3643 Main Street, Stone Ridge, NY 12484
Sunday, September 9th, 6:30pm
Monday, September 10th, 9:30am
Tuesday, September 11th, Hike (time and location TBA)
Saturday, September 15th, Morning Altars Workshop with Day Schildkret. Register for the address.
Tuesday, September 18th, 6:30pm
Wednesday, September 19th, 9:30am
Sunday, September 23rd, Sukkah Building followed by celebration
and potluck at a private residence. RSVP for the address.
Visit the Kol Hai website for details.
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Things develop, consolidate in a given direction, grow rigid, then decline; a change sets in, coherence is established once more, and the world is one again. The secret of Tao in this world of the mutable, the world of light—the realm of yang—is to keep the changes in motion in such a manner that no stasis occurs and an unbroken coherence is maintained. He who succeeds in endowing his work with this regenerative power creates something organic, and the thing so created is enduring."
—Ta Chuan, a 5th-century Taoist text
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
I was the child of a revolution. It was the 1970s, and the adults around me were engaged in a rebellion against all the old modes. We lived on a commune and then an off-grid homestead. The children joined our parents for political protests on the weekends, followed by hippie bacchanals with food and music and homemade everything. When not protesting or partying, we worked alongside our parents, caring for gardens and livestock and working on the never-ending construction projects at various homesteads in the community.
In many respects, this was an ideal childhood. We learned to do honest work together with an extended community of adults and witnessed the example of our parents fulfilling a powerful vision of a new kind of society.
Of course, as the venerable Mullah Nasruddin, says, every stick has two ends. Inasmuch as the `70s revolution was bright, the other end of this stick was a set of sometimes haphazard oppositional tactics. The principle was: when in doubt, do the opposite of what mainstream society does, which meant some babies went out with the bathwater.
I experienced these untraditional approaches with some of the objectivity possessed only by children. For example, at three, my parents suggested that, on the commune and in the tribe, all the adults were my mothers and fathers, and I should refer to them as such.
I recall agreeing in principle with the argument for collective parenting but in practice, addressing the other adults as mom and dad felt awkward. There was no way to un-know that two of those people were actually my parents. As a compromise, I opted to call my parents by their given names, which felt less dishonest.
The early `70s marked the explosion of the feminist movement, whose ideas and practices had a strong presence in the hippie community and in our household. On one side of the stick was the energy and independence the women on the farms brought to new kinds of work.
My mom and her tribe of "North Country Womyn" learned to use chain saws to harvest firewood and replace transmissions in the old beater cars of which each family had one drivable and several derelicts for parts. I watched my mom teach herself electrical skills and wire the converted horse barn that became our house. She was laid flat by shocking high-voltage accidents more than once and survived to live another day as an amateur electrician.
These women were nobody's victim. I remember my mom cursing out men twice her size for their sexist comments. In a campaign against institutional sexism, general masculine pronouns were abolished from our vocabulary under duress.
Also bright was the connection with a hippie, goddess-based spirituality involving solstice and equinox, moon cycles, and May Day celebrations. Some births became public pagan rituals. I attended one public birth when I was six, together with scores of women and children gathered to support and participate in the delivery of a baby. There were no men in the room and the goddess energy, as it was called, was strong.
The other end of the feminism stick was a litany of political rhetoric characterizing men and their crimes against women as an evil almost akin to the Nazis (about which I was also learning at the time). I tried dressing as a girl to demonstrate solidarity, but this was awkward and sometimes a little humiliating as I was not trans in any sense. Though I understood and agreed with all that was said about the crimes of men, I was left feeling culpable and guilty for the crimes of men of all epochs.
Now a man, I have inherited a love of revolution, though intense inquiry has led to a different understanding. Revolution has to do with the way a planet turns on its axis and revolves around the sun, which in turn revolves around its own galactic center. Revolution is turning about a center of gravity like a whirling dervish; revolving around a knowing so deep as to require no belief or defense or convincing. The revolution is constantly in motion, never stagnant, never requiring an enemy or a target to realize its ideal.
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Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
My boys are straddling two stages of independence. One is young enough to enjoy hearing me read or talk with him at bedtime. The other is just as happy to read on his own, though he will tolerate me reading with him in special moments.
The other evening, I read from a book of Sufi teaching stories with the younger boy. Completing each story I asked him what meaning he found. In some cases he thought and replied, and in others he impatiently tells me to "just keep reading, dad!"
This is the routine.
With one story the boy didn't hesitate to share the meaning. It is a potent story, with a surprising turn of meaning affording a glimpse of the almost ubiquitous phenomenon of perceiving the world upside down.
You, who are reading these words, are likely not a child. Nevertheless, the story, which may seem whimsical, has some significance, and is equally valuable to young and old ears. As such, I am sharing it here.
A man died far from his home, and in the portion of his will which he had available for bequest, he left in these words: "Let the community where the land is situated take what they wish for themselves, and let them give that which they wish to Arif the Humble."
Now Arif was a young man at the time, who had far less apparent authority than anyone in the community. Therefore, the elders took possession of whatever they wanted from the land which had been left, and they allocated to Arif a few trifles only, which nobody else wanted.
Many years later Arif, grown to strength and wisdom, went to the community to claim his patrimony. These are the objects which we have allocated to you in accordance with the will," said the elders. They did not feel that they had usurped anything, for they had been told to take what they wished.
But, in the middle of the discussion, an unknown woman of grave countenance and compelling presence appeared among them. She said: "The meaning of the Will was that you should give to Arif that which you wished for yourselves, for he can make the best use of it."
In the moment of illumination which this statement gave them, the elders were able to see the true meaning of the phrase, "Let them give that which they wish to Arif."
"Know," continued the apparition, "that the testator died unable to protect his property, which would, in case of his making Arif his legatee in an obvious sense, have been usurped by this Community. At the very least it would have caused dissension. So, he entrusted it to you, knowing that if you thought that it was your own property you would take care of it. Hence, he made a wise provision for the preservation and transmission of this treasure. The time has now come for it to be returned to its rightful use."
Thus, it was that the property was handed back; the elders were able to see the truth.
There's a Sufi theme much like the golden rule suggesting one should wish for others precisely what one wishes for oneself. Of course, the task is not to stop at wishing, but to actively seek and procure the good of others.
The suggestion is that with a right-side-up perception this is not a selfless or sacrificing mode of behavior. Rather it is the counterintuitive means of achieving the happiness, wholeness, and wellbeing for which everyone seeks but can never quite grasp, precisely because of grasping.
The teaching is that those who work for the happiness, wholeness, and wellbeing of others gain access to a larger reservoir of these qualities, not in acquisition but participation. In this process, the ordinary experience of "other" relaxes and there is a beginning to work for 'the good.'
Another perhaps deeper meaning relates to the inheritance or bequest each person receives by virtue of being born in a human form. These are the faculties—the mind, creativity, the body and its powers, the emotional life, our characteristic makeup and strengths—all that we are given, and experience as "myself."
The movement describes a simple reversal of focus from inside to outside. Herein all that the magnificent instrument of being is, is not for the benefit of ego, not for personal pleasure and enjoyment. Rather all that we are is for others, and for the energetic ecosystem of a larger world of which we ourselves are a part.
The Sufi litany says "You have many endowments which are yours on trust alone; when you understand this, you can give them to the rightful owners."
*Tales of the Dervishes, Idries Shah, 1967 EP Dutton & Co., New York
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