I highly recommend Krista Tippett's new book Becoming Wise and her interviews on On Being. There is greatly needed wisdom, generosity, integrity, consciousness, compassion, and vision held here, offering us remembrance of what we have forgotten. May we all increasingly be the peace our world yearns for. ~ Molly
At risk of stretching my analogy too far, I find myself drawn to black holes in common life -- painful, complicated, shameful things we scarcely talk about at all, alongside the arguments we replay ad nauseam, with the same polar opposites defining, winning, or losing depending on which side you're on, with predictable dead-end results. The art of starting new kinds of conversations, of creating new departure points and new outcomes in our common grappling, is not rocket science. But it does require that we nuance or retire some habits so ingrained that they feel like the only way it can be done. We've all been trained to be advocates for what we care about. This has its place and its value in civil society, but it can get in the way of the axial move of deciding to care about each other.
Listening is an every day social art, but it's an art we have neglected and must learn anew. Listening is more than being quiet while the other person speaks until you can say what you have to say. I like the language Rachel Naomi Remen uses with young doctors to describe what they should practice: "generous listening." Generous listening is powered by curiosity, a virtue we can invite and nurture in ourselves to render it instinctive. It involves a kind of vulnerability -- a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one's own best self and one's own best words and questions.
Generous listening in fact yields better questions. It's not true what they taught us in school; there is such a thing as a bad question. In American life, we trade mostly in answers - competing answers - and in questions that corner, incite, entertain. In journalism we have a love affair with the "tough" question, which is often an assumption masked as an inquiry and looking for a fight. I edited the "spiritual background of your life" question out of our produced show for years, for fear that it sounded soft, though I knew how it shaped everything that followed. My only measure of strength of a question now is in the honesty and eloquence it elicits.
If I've learned nothing else, I've learned this: a question is a powerful thing, a mighty use of words. Questions elicit answers in their likeness. Answers mirror the questions they rise, or fall, to meet. So while a simple question can be precisely what's needed to drive to the heart of the matter, it's hard to meet a simplistic question with anything but a simplistic answer. But it's hard to resist a generous question. We all have it in us to formulate questions that invite honesty, dignity, and revelation. There is something redemptive and life-giving about asking a better question.
Here's another quality of generous questions, questions as social art and civic tools: they may not want answers, or not immediately. They might be raised in order to be pondered, dwelt on, instead. The intimate and civilizational questions we are living with in our time are not going to be answered with answers we can all make peace with any time soon.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who became my friend across time and space all those years ago in Berlin, spoke of holding questions, living questions:
Love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything, live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday for in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
I wish I could throw Elizabeth Alexander's question by the way of poetry, "Are we not of interest to each other?" into town hall meetings, the halls of Congress, and let it roll around for a while.
Our cultural mode of debating issues by way of competing certainties comes with a drive to resolution. We want others to acknowledge that our answers are right. We call the debate or get on the same page or take a vote and move on. The alternative involves a different orientation to the point of conversing in the first place: to invite searching - not on who is right and who is wrong and the arguments on every side; not on whether we can agree; but on what is at stake in human terms for us all. There is value in learning to speak together honestly and relate to each other with dignity, without rushing to common ground that would leave all the hard questions hanging.
You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for
it, unless you see yourself belonging to it and responsible for changing it.
We never know how our small activities will affect
others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely
connected world, it's never a question of 'critical mass.' It's always about
You don't choose the times you live in, but you
do choose who you want to be. And you choose how you want to think.
Don't get stuck in old ideas. Keep recognizing
that reality is changing and that your ideas have to change.
People are aware that they cannot continue in
the same old way but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an
alternative. We need a vision that recognizes that we are at one of the great
turning points in human history when the survival of our planet and the
restoration of our humanity require a great sea change in our ecological,
economic, political, and spiritual values.
To make a revolution, people must not only
struggle against existing institutions. They must make a philosophical/
spiritual leap and become more 'human' human beings. In order to change/
transform the world, they must change/ transform themselves.
What are we for? What are the ripples we consciously choose to create? ~ Molly
We are not alone in this struggle for the re-creation of our own lives and the life of our community. It has long been written and known that those who choose to struggle for the life of the earth and its beings are part of an ageless, pulsating membrane of light that is filled with the lives, hopes, and beatific visions of all who have fought on, held on, loved well, and gone on before us. For this task is too magnificent to be carried by us alone, in our house, in our meeting, in our organization, in our generation, in our lifetime... we are all a part of one another, and we are all part of the intention of the great creator spirit to continue being light and life.
[ We are to seek out ] ... a path that expresses our own searching - expanding the confidence in the healing power of the universe, in the presence of a loving, leading Power, exposing us always to the harsh and the tender, to the dreadful and the compassionate, prying our lives open to the evidence of things unseen...
Now is a powerful time in this country for young people and others to be asking the question, What are we for? Do we exist for some reason other than competing with China or finding the best possible technological advances? Are there some things that are even deeper that we are meant for, meant to be, meant to do, meant to achieve? Jimmy Baldwin used to like to talk about us "achieving ourselves," finding who we are, what we're for and making that possible for each other.
I am deeply grateful to Jack Kornfield and to all my teachers, healers, mentors who have helped me in this journey of awakening. This is beautiful and much needed wisdom rooted in the heart. May we all be open to receive the blessings and gifts offered us on our paths. ~ Molly
The path of awakening begins with a step the Buddha called right
understanding. Right understanding has two parts. To start with, it asks a
question of our hearts. What do we really value, what do we really care about
in this life? Our lives are quite short. Our childhood goes by very quickly,
then adolescence and adult life go by. We can be complacent and let our lives
disappear in a dream, or we can become aware. In the beginning of practice we
must ask what is most important to us. When we’re ready to die, what will we
want to have done? What will we care about most? At the time of death, people
who have tried to live consciously ask only one or two questions about their
life: Did I learn to live wisely? Did I love well? We can begin by asking them
This is the beginning of right understanding: looking at our
lives, seeing that they are impermanent and fleeting, and taking into account
what matters to us most deeply. In the same way, we can look at the world
around us, where there is a tremendous amount of suffering, war, poverty, and
disease. What does the world need to foster a safe and compassionate existence
for all? Human suffering and hardship cannot be alleviated just by a simple
change of government or a new monetary policy, although these things may help.
On the deepest level, problems such as war and starvation are not solved by
economics and politics alone. Their source is prejudice and fear in the human
heart— and their solution also lies in the human heart. What the world needs
most is people who are less bound by prejudice. It needs more love, more
generosity, more mercy, more openness. The root of human problems is not a lack
of resources but comes from the misunderstanding, fear, and separateness that
can be found in the hearts of people.
Right understanding starts by acknowledging the suffering and
difficulties in the world around us as well as in our own lives. Then it asks
us to touch what we really value inside, to find what we really care about, and
to use that as the basis of our spiritual practice. When we see that things are
not quite right in the world and in ourselves, we also become aware of another
possibility, of the potential for us to open to greater loving-kindness and a
deep intuitive wisdom. From our heart comes inspiration for the spiritual
journey. For some of us this will come as a sense of the great possibility of
living in an awake and free way. Others of us are brought to practice as a way
to come to terms with the power of suffering in our life. Some are inspired to
seek understanding through a practice of discovery and inquiry, while some
intuitively sense a connection with the divine or are inspired to practice as a
way to open the heart more fully. Whatever brings us to spiritual practice can
become a flame in our heart that guides and protects us and brings us to true
Right understanding also requires from us a recognition and
understanding of the law of karma. Karma is not just a mystical idea about something
esoteric like past lives in Tibet. The term karma refers to the law of cause
and effect. It means that what we do and how we act create our future
experiences. If we are angry at many people, we start to live in a climate of
hate. People will get angry at us in return. If we cultivate love, it returns
to us. It’s simply how the law works in our lives.
Someone asked a vipassana teacher, Ruth Dennison, if she could
explain karma very simply. She said, ‘‘Sure. Karma means you don’t get away
with nothing!’’ Whatever we do, however we act, creates how we become, how we
will be, and how the world will be around us. To understand karma is wonderful
because within this law there are possibilities of changing the direction of
our lives. We can actually train ourselves and transform the climate in which
we live. We can practice being more loving, more aware, more conscious, or
whatever we want. We can practice in retreats or while driving or in the
supermarket checkout line. If we practice kindness, then spontaneously we start
to experience more and more kindness within us and from the world around us.
There’s a story of the Sufi figure Mullah Nasruddin, who is both
a fool and a wise man. He was out one day in his garden sprinkling breadcrumbs
around the flowerbeds. A neighbor came by and asked, ‘‘Mullah, why are you
Nasruddin answered, ‘‘Oh, I do it to keep the tigers away.’’
The neighbor said, ‘‘But there aren’t any tigers within
thousands of miles of here.’’
Nasruddin replied, ‘‘Effective, isn’t it?’’
Spiritual practice is not a mindless repetition of ritual or
prayer. It works through consciously realizing the law of cause and effect and
aligning our lives to it. Perhaps we can sense the potential of awakening in
ourselves, but we must also see that it doesn’t happen by itself. There are
laws that we can follow to actualize this potential. How we act, how we relate
to ourselves, to our bodies, to the people around us, to our work, creates the
kind of world we live in, creates our very freedom or suffering.