Philosophy is spiritual formation, care of the soul. Some need more care than others, just as some have a better metabolism or were born taller than others. The more forgiving and tolerant you can be of others – the more aware of your various privileges and advantages – the more helpful and patient you will be. Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
[The Daily Stoic, New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 225]
When I worked in catering, I memorized various ways to set up tables in a space because it wasn’t something I could do with ease. Eventually, I got proficient at setting up a room without memorization – but it took years and a lot of practice, and patient coworkers willing to show me how.
When my patience is tested due to someone else’s inability in something that comes easily to me, I do my best to remember the patience of others – and to remember that it isn’t just a set of skills or a completed task at stake: it’s the care of souls.
The Daily Stoic; Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman; New York: Penguin, 2016, p. 204
The difference between learning in a way that leads to a fruitful life for self and the world and learning that doesn’t go that way is the difference between wisdom and knowledge. A genius may use her or his knowledge and skills for irrelevant or harmful ends; a wise man or woman uses his or her skills in a way that deepens the spirit and gladdens the world.
There are evil geniuses, but no evil wise ones. Something to think about…
[The Daily Stoic; Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman; New York: Penguin, 2016]
When I need to pray the most is when I’m least likely to do so. Life’s cares and woes knock me down because I refuse to rely on my soul’s source of strength. Eventually, I’ll return to prayer, but not before I try to carry on without it. It makes no sense and it does me no good.
It takes courage to walk the path of prayer, perhaps or precisely because I am fundamentally changed in ways that move me away from the person I was toward the person I am becoming. That kind transformation, living that kind of miracle, isn’t for the faint of heart.
[Sharon Salzberg is an author and teacher, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.]
You say, good fortune used to meet you at every corner. But the fortunate person is the one who gives themselves a good fortune. And good fortunes are a well-tuned soul, good impulses, and good actions. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.36
[from The Daily Stoic; Ryan Holiday and Steven Hanselman; New York, NY: Portfolio/Penguin, 2016, p. 158]
I’ve been lucky in the people I’ve loved and the meaningful work I’ve found. It feels like good fortune, like being in the right place at the right time. That being said, I’d bet that had I lived in different places and loved different people, I’d feel the same. The particulars of an alternate path would be just as beautiful and holy and joyful.
But I’m glad that the particulars of my life are what and who they are. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.
For the last thirty years or so, I’ve spent part of my mornings delving into various daily readings and meditations. Buechner and Rohr writings arrive daily in my email; the words of Nouwen and L’Engle are in book form on my shelves; Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman have given me Stoic quotes and some points to ponder. National Geographic has gone one better, adding beautiful images to a marvelous and diverse collection of quotes.
I have missed many days over the past few decades, and a few months at a shot on occasion. Still, I return to my daily readings because they give me a time and a space to be quiet and listen to the hopes, dreams, thoughts, and prayers of another.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of my favorites. Perhaps you will do the same…
Doesn’t this seem to be a time full of questions? Who, what, where, when, why, and how fly around inside and outside my head. Perhaps that’s why this new book crossed my desk and made it onto this blog: Book of Questions (Libro de las Preguntas) by Pablo Neruda. It’s visually stunning and verbally fascinating, and one of the few poetry books that’s ever been on back order immediately after publication (thanks, New York Times book review!). So let’s dive in…
Is 4,4 for everyone?
My thoughts in a few days. Why not add yours – just hit the comment button….
Pablo Neruda (Sara Lissa Paulson, trans.), Paloma Valdivia, illustrator; Book of Questions (Libro de las Preguntas); Brooklyn, New York: Enchanted Lion Books, 2022
It’s on the corner of Center and High streets, a lovely brick building that once housed the town library. The morning sun slants in the windows, creating an airy space within; the afternoon sun glances off this side window, and mirrors the dazzling sun-on-waves found on the river just down the street. There is a grace to this old building, and the town is made more beautiful for it.
But give it more than a passing glance and the neglect cannot be overlooked. The bricks are no longer held fast by mortar; it’s only a matter of time, and not a lot of it, before whole sections are sheared off by the erosive effects of weather and age. No matter how well constructed this building was, regular care and maintenance are necessary to keep it solid and safe for use – regular care that was withheld for at least the past twenty years.
In this building, I see the beauty of craftsmanship, a structure built to serve this town for hundreds of years. In its disrepair, I see a town’s lack of respect for its own inherited history and beauty. There’s a stinginess to withholding basic repair to save a few dollars, and a lack of understanding that routine maintenance is necessary for all things.
I hope the town invests in this building, restoring it to serve as a resource for decades to come. But leaders unwilling or unable to recognize the necessity of routine maintenance aren’t likely to invest in an expensive restoration.
If leaders cannot see the necessity for investing in what is right before their eyes, what are the chances that they will invest in the intangible and sometimes invisible elements that foster communal life – services for the elderly and poor, resources for the very young, and the preservation of the local environment and all that live therein?
A sculpture in stone: a woman walking in a beautiful green space. Unless something happens to knock her over, she will be standing amid the green long after I’ve left this life. She’ll be worn away by the elements, but that will take a very long time – a gradual blurring of her features and her skirt folds. She may even outlast the tree above her. For decades to come, she will offer everyone who passes the chance to stop walking just long enough to meet the beauty this world offers.
I am not made of stone, and I have changed from a newborn baby to nearly retirement age in these past fifty-seven years. I won’t get the chance to experience everything I’d like before a stone marks my grave, and I won’t appreciate all the experiences I did have as much as I should. But I recognize the holy privilege of drawing breath for a brief span of time, and the wonder of walking in this green place.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Psalm 19:13, NRSV
Keep back your servant also from proud thoughts – the alternate translation of that first part of the verse. This isn’t a prayer for God to keep me away from the insolence of others: it’s a prayer to God that I don’t become insolent. But, as like attracts like, if I hang with an insolent crowd I’m probably guilty of the same vice.
Proud thoughts (the ones that make me see myself as comparatively better than others) aren’t the same thing as self-confidence or self-love. Proud thoughts are those internal conversations that demean others so that I can feel inherently superior. They shrink my soul even as I diminish the worth of others. There is no doubt: this is a great transgression. Evil comes easily from such thoughts.
The Buddhists list right thought as one of the chief elements in a holy life. This is having the right perspective more than it is the lack of thinking mean thoughts. Their point is that everything else springs from this basic starting point. Wrong thoughts cannot lead to right judgement, speech, or action – harm will come from the wrong perspective, damaging others or damaging self, and often both.
Perhaps there’s no better way to avoid proud thoughts than asking for God’s help. Knowing I cannot rely on my own strength of character, and knowing I can rely on God’s love, is a good starting point.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
[For the whole psalm, click “Psalm 19” above.]
Anthropomorphism: the attribution of human characteristics to a god, animal, or object.
It’s frowned upon, this attributing human characteristics to non-human entities. It’s considered naive at best, woefully ignorant and dangerous at worst. This is something children do because they don’t know any better.
But poets do the same, as do holy women and men. Metaphorically, perhaps, but they do it. And our lives our better for it because we find ourselves in relationship with beings and things we would never be otherwise.
The sun rising like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, finding joy in the daily run across the sky. The cosmology might be a bit off, but the gist of it is true: there is nothing in this entire creation that isn’t connected in one way or another.
It’s better to see in the arc of the sun a living spirit than to look upon this creation as nothing but a collection of objects without purpose or soul.