Sauntering

Walt Whitman liked to speak of walking out in nature as ‘sauntering’, and perhaps Delycia and I can call ourselves saunterers, since we love to stride along through the woods or on country roads. Of course, at 78 and 79, we saunter at a relatively slow pace, but in our hearts, we do see ourselves as serious ramblers in love with the countryside. Here’s a short video of Delycia sauntering up the trail at the Oswegatchie Hills Preserve in Niantic, CT:

And here are some scenes from recent walks – in Oswegatchie, and along the Mystic River:

Teachers

For thousands of years, human beings believed the earth was in charge of the universe and the sun merely one of its satellites, and for thousands of years we have believed that the adult is the only teacher in the classroom and the children the only students—but what if the second belief is as flawed as the first?

I actually pondered this occasionally during my 45 years as a middle school teacher. What if, someday in the future, it becomes indisputably clear that we were wrong in our assessment of how education works? What if it turns out that my young students were actually my co-teachers all along, and I, the certified adult educator, was actually as much a pupil as a teacher? Strange is it sounds, is it any stranger than thinking, back in the Middle Ages, that the sun might actually be the center of the universe and the earth merely a minor satellite? Surely that would have been considered a crazy notion, but perhaps not much crazier than the idea that the students might be among the finest teachers in any classroom. I saw hints of this countless times. My students regularly taught me (and each other) new truths about the literature we read. I recall, for instance, being in class discussions about poems which I thought I thoroughly understood – poems I had loved for decades – and listening quietly as the 8th grade scholars turned the light of their young thoughts on the lines and showed me new doors into the poem. I recall listening with a strange kind of respect and astonishment as 13-year-olds explained a sentence in To Kill a Mockingbird that had always perplexed me, listening to teenagers unveil for me the meaning of a metaphor in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, listening to young scholars explain to their senior-citizen teacher young Pip’s sadness in Dickens’ Great Expectations. Of course, I was the professional educator in my classroom, so I hope I did a considerable amount of teaching, but I wonder who was really the center of the teaching. Was it me with all my years of pedagogic experience and degrees and weighty how-to-teach books and cumbersome theories, or was it the spirited and almost-brand-new people sitting before me in class? Was I really the central source of light in my classes, or did an equally bright light perhaps come from the youngest people in the room, my teenage students, who often seemed to have nothing but new ideas arising inside them.

I recall a famous person saying something about the kingdom of God being found where children are, and it sometimes seemed to me that this kingdom was in Room 2 at my school. 

Treasure

I was recalling today the old fairy tale about the guy who leaves home for many years to search for treasure, only to return home to find it buried in his own yard. We’ve all done our share of searching for the “treasure” called contentment, and, in the end, don’t we occasionally realize that the contentment we were seeking was somehow beside us all the while? I have a feeling that the present moment – any present moment – is a treasure box of contentment, but sadly, I rarely recognize it. Most moments in a day, I’m off on the great search for ease and satisfaction, perhaps in several more lemon cookies, perhaps in purchases of things I don’t need, perhaps in daydreams about maybe’s and what if’s. Occasionally, though, I do return, sometimes exhausted, to the present moment, which is always right here for me, always loyal, always waiting with its treasures. Every moment is a chest of riches, and it’s not even buried, except to folks like me who have good eyes but sometimes can’t see. 

Yesterday, on our two-hour walk on the Canonchet Preserve trails, we passed countless treasures – simple but spectacular scenes of stones and trees and leaves and assorted forest specialities. It was an old paradise for two old and grateful walkers. Check out the slide-show below.

ONE DAY A WOMAN AWOKE TO SEE 

One day,
a woman awoke to see
that she actually lived in a land
overflowing with a different kind
of affluence, for hovering
around her, she now saw,
were limitless riches,
but in the form of friendliness
and generosity and gentleness.
As far as she could see,
treasures like kindness and
unselfishness were fanned out
and free for the taking.
She asked her husband to help her
gather them, but then they saw
these gifts were flowing freely
into their lives, so they
relaxed and just laughed
and let them arrive.

Our Limitless Powers

Several years ago, when a friend who was suffering with a serious illness told me he didn’t think he had enough patience or calmness to cope with it, a reassuring thought about his situation came to me, one which I shared with him.

It occurred to me that my friend was thinking of patience and calmness as private and personal qualities. He seemed to be thinking of them as material substances which people ‘own’ in different amounts, depending on their personalities. It was as if my friend thought of himself as a physical ‘container’ which contained a very small amount of the substances called ‘patience’ and ‘calmness’. It was obvious that he felt that his allotted amount of these qualities was so limited that he would not be able to deal with the stress and turbulence of his serious illness.

As I thought about it, what I slowly realized, and what I shared with my friend, is that qualities like patience and calmness are not personal and privately owned. It sounds crazy, but it strikes me as an undeniable fact: patience and calmness are totally impersonal, simply because they are not ‘made’ by any one person, don’t ‘belong’ to any one person, and can’t be ‘owned’ by any one person. They are not material ‘things’ that can be accumulated or constructed, held onto, and then used up.

An analogy that came to me is the sky, which is everywhere above us and is freely available for everyone to appreciate and enjoy, just like patience and calmness. No one would think of saying to someone, “I don’t own enough of the sky.” The sky can’t be privately owned, and thus can’t be ‘used up’, and nether can qualities like patience and calmness. The boundless sky, and patience and calmness, are just there, always and for everyone. While my friend was feeling impatient and anxious, all around him qualities like patience and calmness were being appreciated, enjoyed, and expressed – by his friends, by his family members, by millions of strangers, and, of course, by him. My friend, like all of us, was absolutely surrounded by infinite patience and calmness, ready to help. Unfortunately, he, like many of us, couldn’t see it and feel it.

But the truth is – and this is what I shared with him – that no situation can take away any of the patience and calmness and courage and acceptance, etc that always surround us and are part of us. Qualities like these are wider and bigger and more boundless than any one person. They are with us always, like the endless sky. When we’re despondent and desperate, the sky is still there, waiting for us to appreciate and enjoy it, and so are patience and calmness and friendliness and optimism. Truly, my friend couldn’t possibly escape from these qualities, just as he can’t escape from being under the never-ending sky.

The years have passed, but I hope my friend, come what may, can always appreciate and enjoy the power of limitless, free-of-charge qualities like patience and calmness and courage and friendliness and optimism and unselfishness.

And I hope I can too.

Authorship

Years ago, I read somewhere that writers in medieval times sometimes did not sign their writings because they believed God had actually written them – and I’ve always found a grain of good sense in that approach to authorship. I’m not a religious person in the traditional sense (I don’t believe in the conventional God who rewards some and punishes others), but I do have great respect for the immeasurable force (whatever name it might be given) that surrounds and saturates this universe of which we writers are a part. When I write, words somehow come to rest on my computer screen, but how this happens is a far-reaching mystery to me. To take the easy path and say my brain creates the words is like saying clouds create rain. The actual origins of every raindrop go infinitely far back to the origins of the entire universe, and the origins of the words in my poems and paragraphs are every bit as shrouded in vastness and timelessness. It’s convenient for me to attach my name to my writings, just as it is convenient to say the bulb creates the light in my desk lamp, even though forces far more immense and complex than a single brain or light bulb actually do the creating.  

Here’s an old, happy guy doing – or allowing, or welcoming – his daily writing …

Forever Changing

This morning, as I was watching these clouds carrying themselves across the sky and slowly shifting their shapes,

it occurred to me that I myself am a sort of cloud. I, too, am constantly changing, despite my deceptively fixed appearance. If people had seen me this morning on a trail with my wife in a local nature preserve, they wouldn’t have seen the river of fresh thoughts flowing through me, each one new and special, each one making me someone slightly new. Nor would they have seen the cells in my body being purified or replaced, or the fresh oxygen bringing newness to my lungs, or the blood ferrying freshness to every part of my body. They would have seen a 78-year-old silvery guy staring at a sky full of fine, feathery clouds that first looked like lions, then small ships, then sailing hearts. They wouldn’t have noticed that his life was slightly new each moment. They wouldn’t have seen what was constantly being born inside him. 

Even these stones of long ago, which we passed on our walk this morning,

are steadily – if slowly – shifting and reshaping and adjusting, and, as the years and centuries pass, they will gradually pass away into stony particles and dust and sand. They seemed solid as we passed them today, just as I seem solid as I look at myself in the bathroom mirror. However, stones and I and everything are always participating in the forever dance of change. As I sit at my desk and type these words, what I actually am is shifting and reshaping as fast as the clouds we saw this morning.

LOOSE
(Philip M., 89, Blessings, CT)
 
He always tries to be a loose cannon
so he can freely shoot cannonballs of kindness 
and make mighty explosions of sympathy. 
He also hopes all hell constantly breaks loose, 
because he wants all sorrows 
to be loosed from the fires 
and find freedom 
so they can blissfully and silently disappear.  
He loves to be always at loose ends,
because if the ends are loose, they are swinging 
and swaying and able to lead him 
to superbly loose beginnings.
He says if you watch him carefully, 
you’ll see he breaks loose almost every second, 
mostly from the past and future, 
always busting out 
and standing gloriously in the present. 
He tells me he loves to hang loose 
from a tree limb in his yard,
hanging and swinging and throwing 
nickels and dimes around on the ground 
because he says change 
always likes to be loose. 
His mom always said he had a screw loose  
and he’s been proud of that for 80+ years, 
and hopes all of his screws are now loose
because then his life can easily shake and sway 
with this loosely flourishing universe. 

Community

It’s consoling to realize that I don’t ever have to ‘try’ to be part of a group, a community, because I, and all of us – all people and trees and flowers and flowing rivers – are naturally and necessarily part of an uncountable number of groups or communities. The very fact that I and all things and people are part of an infinite universe means that we all belong to that group – the everlasting community called The Universe. I have no choice, actually. I don’t have to want or try to be part of this group; like it or not, I  am part of it. And what’s wonderful is that this group – this community – that I belong to is always doing wonderful activities, and doing them all together. When I breathe in and out, I’m participating in an exciting and enjoyable activity, and – wonder of wonders – billions of other creatures are doing it with me at the very same time! When I see with my eyes, I’m taking part in an adventure called ‘sight’ with numberless other living beings. We’re side by side, in a sense, in partnership across the earth and sky, savoring the experience of seeing. How fortunate – to be part of an endless number of boundless groups and communities! How lucky, to be seamlessly united with others in so many wonderful ways!

I thought of writing about ‘community’ after our walk this morning, during which we passed this ‘community’ of old stones sitting in peace -a solid group of friends for probably centuries.

And here we are, a community of two shadows, striding along through a local neighborhood …

Home

  My wife and I have a small home beside a river in a small town, but I wish I could more often feel like I’m home no matter where I happen to be. Home is our white stone house in Mystic, but home should also be the sidewalk I’m walking on, or the store where I’m browsing among beets and cabbages, or the forest in which we’re walking together on a summer day. Home, as we say, is where the heart is, and shouldn’t my heart be wherever I happen to be, whether floating on a river in a kayak or driving on a crowded interstate? Shouldn’t I feel just as “at home” pumping gas at a station miles from our house as doing the dishes in our kitchen? I live in little Mystic, but I also live in the limitless universe, so perhaps my real home is as vast as galaxies. It could be there are countless doors in my real home, all leading to moments that could be called miracles, all opening to places as comfortable and kindly as our living room on Riverbend Drive.  

This morning, we took a walk around some nearby neighborhoods, and it was fun to see the various homes along the way, each one expressing its cozy homey-ness in its own special way . I love walking on woodland trails with Delycia, but this morning I found joy in just appreciating the various homestyles, the different kinds of comfort, that we saw along the road.

COMING HOME
 
He comes home each time
a happy thought comes home to him.
Happiness has its home all around him
but he doesn't know it
until one of its thoughts
lets itself quietly down to him
and he shakes with happiness,
and there he is,
home in happiness,
where he's always been
but didn't know it.

Patterns and Peace

When things seem stirred up in my life, sometimes all I have to do is see more clearly. I’ve found that if I can simply notice the usually unnoticed things around me, life feels lighter and more leisurely. If, for instance, I take some time to tour my wife’s garden on an abundant summer day and actually see the assorted shades of the blossoms, actually notice the slight shifting of the flowers in the faintest winds, I almost always come away with a quieter feeling about life. Problems seem simpler after I’ve studied the colors of clouds for a few seconds, or seen the different ways two houses shine in the sunlight, or observed the movement among millions of leaves in windy trees. Even taking the time to notice the patterns in one of our colorful plates or bowls, or the way a sunroom window shows the shades of early morning light, might make a day seem effortless, its potential problems powerless and easy to solve. 

And this morning, on our walk in the Peace Sanctuary, I happened to notice these lovely patterns along the trail –

– the stones and moss and leaves and roots all stylishly set in their perfect places. I paused for a few seconds and studied them, and perhaps that pause has brought even more of my usual peacefulness to this day.

RAIN
 
R  emember its gift, the 
A  lways satisfying song it sings
I  n the trees and inside you, because 
N  ow, all of life is wet and wonderful.  

Storms and Wonders

Here in Mystic right now (5:30 pm on August 27) we are hearing the rumbling of thunder and seeing an occasional streak of lightning, and it has me thinking about storms of all kinds – not just storms in the weather, but storms inside and around my personal life. Like all of us, I have lived through countless emotional storms, sometimes far scarier than a thunderstorm, and the mystery for me is that the ‘sunlight’ that started shining inside me soon after a storm had passed somehow always seemed a bit brighter than before the storm. Strangely, it seems like storms have always brought better vision, a brighter inner light.

MINDS AND STORMS
 
On stormy days,
set your mind loose inside the storm
and let it socialize
with winds and thunders
and do the dance
the storm is doing.
You might be surprised
to see your mind as mighty
as the storm,
the two like sisters,
swirling together,
thoughts and winds
and dreams and downpours
flowing from far away
and fading off
with peacefulness
and friendly waves.

Yesterday morning, we took another restful and fulfilling walk in the Canonchet Preserve in Hopkinton, RI, and, as usual, I was fairly mesmerized by the beauty of the place right from our first steps. There’s a sort of dark and unexplainable loveliness along those trails. I felt like we were walking in a faraway fairyland, and the sounds of our shoes on the soft and sometimes stony trail were the sounds of words whispered by two people passing through. Lucky, as usual, to be alive – that is exactly how I felt.

Here is a slide show of some of the wonders we saw …

and here are the quiet, carefree walkers …

and a quick video …

And finally, here are the shadows of the same wonder-filled walkers as they walked the hills of seaside Noank village this morning …