Here you’ll find musings on the necessity of solitude, re-thinking perspectives, new paradigms for relationship and intimacy, living creatively, guidance for hard times, questions about what’s essential and some of my own poetry. May you pause long enough to listen and so recognize your own heart-wisdom and beauty in these reflections. Enjoy!
Image: Marc Chagall
Dedicated James Baldwin on the 94th anniversary of his birth,
with gratitude for the way he challenged and changed the perspective of so many of us.
Someone asked me recently, “Who’s one person, living or dead, you’d love to share a meal with?” I immediately replied, “James Baldwin.” Baldwin opened my mind to dimensions of experience I was ignorant of, which is why I’m sharing this with you. This renowned author and unsparing social critic woke me years ago when I read his semi-autobiographical book, Go Tell It on the Mountain. I’ve been grateful ever since.
Baldwin became an expatriate in 1948, moving to Paris to distance himself from American racial prejudice. He also sought to reckon with the ambivalence he felt as a young gay man. His second book, Giovanni’s Room, is a gay-themed novel written in 1956, well before the gay rights movement was in full sway.
Baldwin spoke directly, with brilliant, razor-sharp intelligence about explosive issues. In a word, he had gravitas. He was unrelenting in his message about the realities of racism, homosexuality and power dynamics in America. Baldwin looked racism dead in the eye and boldly laid out the bloody truth; his relevance remains painfully clear. To read him as a white person is to reckon with individual and collective conscience.
Baldwin also embodied beauty and kindness. Forces of love, tenderness and strength were woven through various speeches, interviews, novels and essays. Baldwin is poignant about the light and dark dimensions of human experience, which he never placed himself above or outside of.
In a moving letter to his nephew, he wrote, “Take no one’s word for anything, including mine – but trust your own experience. (from Letter to My Nephew, January 1, 1962) It seems he didn’t stray from this advice, nor the integrity of his convictions, even when he came under fire. Baldwin’s writings were as much an open conversation with himself as with the rest of us. As such, we’re invited into the conversation.
His passionate dedication to freedom and truth-telling equaled his passionate explorations as a writer and visual artist. Baldwin wrote: “The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through vast forests, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
This is my testament to a great artist. I bow to you, Mr. Baldwin, to your artistic sensibility, creative vision, clarity of though and moral audacity. You were, then and now, a voice for love, conscience, freedom, strength and vulnerability.
To get a direct feeling for Baldwin, check out the extraordinary documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro.”
Reflection: Baldwin said, “From my point of view, no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being.” Do you agree or disagree with this? Why? What are the implications of your response either way?
The remarkable art image is the work of photographer and collage artist, Ruben Guadalupe Marquez.
A mind untethered from the incessant “gotta-do” list and “need ta have” mentality perceives with clarity and aliveness.
Actor Jeremy Irons speaks to this perennial wisdom in a very short video, a mere 2:18 minutes (link below). If we want to free ourselves from the ravages of uber-manic modern living, daily quietude and contemplation is vital. As W. B. Yeats wisely said: “When one gets quiet, then something wakes up inside one, something happy and quiet like the stars.” from The Hour-Glass, 1916.
In a direct, down-to-earth manner, Mr. Irons talks about giving ourselves this gift. When we do, we can “return to daily life not only refreshed, but with a different perspective,” the kind of perspective that asks: do we really need all the stuff we think we do? I leave you now to enjoy Mr. Irons.
Reflection: How much of the stuff that you have or think of getting do you actually need? What happens if you ponder not the stuff itself, but your perception of need?
Jeremy Irons: Passing A Better Time
Enjoy the chill vibe La Femme d’Argent by Air, which is relaxing and energizing. Who says a quiet mind and a moving body can’t play together?
Sanctuaries of Silence, 7:19:
Sanctuaries of Silence, an award-winning documentary, is an “immersive listening journey into one of the quietest places in North America,” the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park. Acoustic geologist Gordon Hempton refers to silence as the absence of noise from modern life. This silence, he says, “…isn’t the absence of something but the presence of everything.” And such silence is becoming extinct.
True listening to the natural acoustics of place means “taking things in with equal value.” No judgement, expectation or bias. Something happens when we take things in this way – like the slight creaking of a tree, the quiet trickle of a stream, bird calls from within foliage of rustling leaves. Have you experienced the wonders of silence? I have, and what I feel is an intimacy with the land, receptivity to sounds I’ve take for granted. Including the sound of my very own heartbeat.
Which takes me to how Hempton’s observations of silence can extend to the inward journey. Silence, one of the most essential thresholds of life, reveals Presence. Listening without any goal or bias is rare, yet it is from silence which true words arise and return. In the relaxation of effort to do or make something, to be someone, self-consciousness drops away. Or as Hempton says, “When I listen I have to become quiet….and ‘I’ disappear.” This disappearance, ironically, gives birth to true love. Self-consciousness and love have an in inverse relationship: more of one means less of the other.
Listening to natural acoustics or to the inner depths have equal power to usher us to that imperturbable placeless place, where peaceful abidance is possible. “Silence is the presence of time, undisturbed.” There is nothing more effortless, real or luminous.
Are you listening?