Easing Up

On another beautiful bike ride this morning, we stopped for a few minutes in this very old cemetery,

and, strangely enough, the phrase ‘easing up’ came to me as I wandered among the old stones. I am easing up in these elder years, partly because I’m retired, but partly also because I’m finally understanding a significant fact about life. I grew up with the belief that the nature of reality was what might be called ‘manyness’, but now I see that it’s much closer to ‘oneness’. From my earliest memory, it was impressed upon me (by family, friends, the media, and the overall culture) that life is basically a struggle among innumerable separate elements. My main task, I learned, is to save myself from harm and try to triumph in as many of the daily contests as possible. Now, however, in my eighth decade of trying to figure things out, I’ve come to understand that the manyness approach to reality is simply inaccurate. Instead of being many, the Universe is just one. It’s not a confused collection of disparate material entities, but rather a single, cohesive, and harmonious expression of Itself. The entire Universe, I see now, is as unified as a single cell. As in a cell, everything that happens in the Universe happens for the good of Itself. What this means for me is that I should give up stressing and struggling, because there’s no other person or other thing that’s out to hurt “me”. In fact, there’s no “other” at alland no separate “me”. There’s just the one shared and always successful Universe, of which I and everyone and all of our so-called problems are a part. We’re all part of a single impressive enterprise called Life (of which death is an integral part), as closely interlaced with each other as the insides of a cell. This realization, to me, calls for a lot more loosening up in life than struggling. As I walked among the gravestones this morning, I felt closely in tune with the oneness of the universe – gravestones, grass, sky, death, bumblebees, bicycles – all endlessly interweaving in easygoing, wonderful ways.

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IN THE CEMETERY

(about Braelynn J., 52, Blessings, CT)
 
She shares herself most fully
in the cemetery near her house.
She lends herself as a gift
as she walks among the gravesites,
feely bestowing the steady light
she shares with everything.
Her thoughts in the cemetery
are silent and immense,
as if spread inside her
by all the endless stars.
Visiting the cemetery,
her elderly life looks larger
than a sunlit sea,
and she presents the luster of it
to the stones and sticks and winds.

Abeyance

If the word ‘abeyance’ means temporary inactivity, as one dictionary says, then I’m a believer in abeyance. I’d like to hold everything in abeyance about once every hour – just breathing in and out for a few minutes and letting the planet spin where it will without me moving a muscle or thinking a thought. On our bike ride this morning, we stopped at this old cemetery for a break, and, as I looked at these stones,

it struck me with almost a sense of envy that they are always in abeyance. They simply sit in silence where they have for probably several hundred years, doing nothing but being proper gravestones. They’re not restless, not checking off a list, not flying from one activity to the next. No, they seemed to be holding restlessness and frenzy in abeyance. The world and my life seemed quite peaceful as I watched those stones. In fact, I’ve decided to imitate them for the next few minutes. I’m holding this writing in abeyance. Back later . . . maybe!   

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SITTING STILL

He finds it hard to sit still,

in silence and peace,

so sometimes he practices.

He goes outside and sits

beside stones that have sat

in stillness for years and years,

or beside a tree

that understands staying power

and remains right there.

He sits and sees the world

that stays where it is —

grass that silently remains,

air that seems in no hurry,

the sky that’s simply the sky

day after day.

He sits and uncomplainingly holds

his life in his hands,

while life holds him,

with love and reliability,

right where he is.

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Our fridge magnetic poem for today …

Views

Walking this morning along the Mystic River, I came upon this view of the distant river through some bushy trees, and I realized, again, that the river is part of an endlessly complex environment, and I was grateful to get this faraway, wide-angle view.

It reminded me that, when I was teaching, I wanted my students and I to always try to get the widest possible view of these mysteries called life and education. As we went through our days in school, I believed we needed to try our best to circumspectly see the innumerable variables that are always in operation. Yes, we had to focus on the one thing, the single task, that was before us at any moment, but we also needed to somehow keep all things in view. In this regard, I found it helpful (and still do) to imagine that I’m a powerful camera placed on a far away star. First I zoom in on the single task that is before me – let’s say a lesson on the uses of irony in a short story. At that close perspective, the task seems vitally important, and, in a sense, it is. Being the one job within reach, it deserves my maximum attention. However, as I pull the zoom slowly back, I begin to see other important things – all my students, first of all, with their fears and daydreams, and then the other students in other classes in the school, and then the town, the shopping areas, and the homes of the students, with their innumerable troubles and triumphs. I begin to realize that, while the lesson on irony is important, so are all these other thingsThen, as I keep zooming out with the camera, I see all the students in America, and then all the students in the world. I also see millions of starving and sick people, the dying and the dead, the newborn and the thriving. I see mountains and forests and seas. And when I pull back further, I begin to consider all things – the everlasting universe itself, with its limitless spinning galaxies and stars. I still see my single task – the lesson on the uses of irony – but now I also see how this task is merely a part of the boundless activity of the universe. All things considered, I realize that teaching the students about irony is, indeed, an important task, but no more important than all the other multitudinous undertakings of the magnificent cosmos we are lucky to live in.

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THE VIEW AMONG THE HILLS

(with Delycia near Claremont, New Hampshire)

It’s nothing very special.

Cars show off in style on the road,

shadows shake themselves across the land,

and trees on hills stand tall in stateliness.

The sunset says the final words

as evening comes, and quiet,

steadfast stars let softness down on us.

It’s not so special,

just our lavish world and its wizardry,

just easy miracles.

Abandon

The word “abandon” often carries a negative connotation, but I occasionally find myself living with a positive and useful kind of ‘abandon’. As a noun, the word can mean living with a lack of inhibition or restraint, and every so often, I feel myself sort of sailing loose from my moorings and turning a few moments or hours into an impetuous escapade. I’m usually a fairly logical and predictable person, but now and then I like to live like a sailor with good sails, supportive winds, and no schedule. Even a few minutes of living with abandon – perhaps humming old songs as I tour my wife’s garden, or mixing mints and celery and ground beef with my scrambled eggs, or just skipping down the hall of our house – can balance the seriousness of life with some wholesome whimsy and gladness. 

These stray, on-the-loose blossoms beside the road this morning are, we might say, living with abandon,

at liberty to lean and mingle and spread seeds wherever they wish. They’re unrestricted and bounteous in their living and giving. I paused beside them on my walk, to wish them – and myself – the best kind of unhampered sharing and receiving.

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ACCORD

(about Sharon Z., 82, Blessings, CT)
 
She sees accord wherever she finds herself -
in her garden where agreement lives 
among the flowers, in the amicability of blossoms 
beside blossoms, the amity of roses 
meeting irises in friendliness, the fine-looking balance 
between pink and white petunias. 
Compatibility is a comforter she sees everywhere. 
It’s like life is a concert for her, 
a symphony of fellowship,
the tuneful flow of joyfulness and sorrow, 
darkness and radiance. She sees
the sympathetic friendship between frustration
and wisdom, and the symmetry between 
unhappiness and illumination. To her, 
all things seem like-minded, living by
consensus, like clouds and sunshine 
sharing the sky. She sees synthesis everywhere,
sighs mixing with smiles, births and deaths
making a melody she sometimes hears
as she feels her 82 years gliding along 
in unison like graceful, synchronized skaters. 
 
 
 
 

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Our chalkboard poem for today:

Family

MY WHOLE FAMILY

            On our walk this morning along the Mystic River, we passed these new springtime families of geese,

and it got me thinking, for a moment, about my extended family in St. Louis, New York, and Florida. Sometimes I feel far away from them, but at those times I try to remember that my whole family – my endless family, actually – is always with me. The Salsich family is just a small part of my real family. I belong to the universe, not just the Salsichs. Among my many brothers and sisters are the stars and seas and rivers and white chairs on porches and pine trees and tables in living rooms – all the things made from the brother and sister atoms formed by the Big Bang some 15 billion years ago. Al and Pete and Joe and Mike are my brothers, but so are all the living things that share this earth’s atmosphere. Barbara and Maysie and Cat are my sisters, but so are the birds that breathe in and breathe out in our backyard, and so is the new green grass growing in our yard where the trellis used to be. Yes, some in my human family seem many miles away, but fortunately for me, they and this morning’s geese- as part of my whole, undivided, and never-ending family – are actually forever with me.

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FAMILY FRIENDSHIP

 
One day, ballet and family met with us
in a Boston theater. Aaron and I
and Delycia watched the dancers fly
around the stage with grace and sureness,
 
and then this happy, grateful mom and son
went walking, while I sipped some coffee and
reflected on my lucky life. A grand,
good day it was, with family, ballet, and fun.

Work

DOING A GREAT WORK

            One day a few years ago, as my grandson was working on a Lego project with single-minded passion, he paused and said to me, “Hammy, I am doing a great work,” and I said to myself, Yes you are, and so is everything. The universe itself is an endless system of great works, from the falling of a single snowflake to the movements of the far-flung stars. These words I’m writing are doing the great work of unwrapping thoughts given to me like gifts, and the cars I hear on a nearby highway are heading somewhere on great missions, from finding a good cafe to saving a loved one’s life. We’re all engaged in grand enterprises. Our smallest thought, if we only realized it, requires earnest labor, and being able to type a single word is a little miracle. It’s a great work to give a greeting to someone, or to notice the sunshine on a sidewalk, or to set one foot in front of another, or to help hundreds of Lego pieces fit perfectly together – or to lovingly care for a beautiful garden of flowers, like Delycia, below, does day after day in this season of blossoms.   

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WORK TO DO

(about Andy H., 70, Blessings, CT) 
 
One day, Andy saw a piece of paper 
posted on the wall beside his desk
swaying in the currents 
from the furnace in the cellar. 
The paper was just above a furnace vent, 
and it flowed with the warm air, 
fluttering up and down and side to side 
with subtle, assorted motions. 
It seemed a sprightly piece of paper, 
one that pranced and pirouetted
instead of staying impassively on the wall. 
Beside his silent, businesslike desk, 
this was a serious piece of paper, 
a fashionable and devoted dancer.  
Andy had work to do, and so did 
the dancing paper, and so did the day 
as it twirled and leaped along. 

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Two magnetic poems on our fridge today …

Hidden

This morning – a clear, cool, and lovely one – we took a bracing 5-mile walk along River Road, and I started noticing things that seemed hidden. Here’s an example – this stone beside the road, secluded and sheltered inside a bushy home of leaves.

I wouldn’t have noticed it if Delycia hadn’t pointed it out. I had told her I was on the lookout for hidden things, mostly because so many miracles remain hidden to me as I mindlessly rush my way through my 78th year. And here was this stone among leaves this morning – nothing special, we might say – and yet it seemed as miraculous as every single thing in this heart-stopping universe. I truly felt like dropping to my knees and giving thanks for this wonder in a world of them.

Here’s a poem I wrote several years ago about hidden-ness:

HIDDEN PRESENCES
(Philip M., 89, Blessings, CT)
 
He’s aware 
of their hidden presence in his life, 
these silent strengths that suddenly arise
and you are startled 
and start to understand
the rugged, multicolored quality of life. 
He has seen some struggles, 
but once the truth
snakes up through his thoughts, 
the truth that strength is always nestled 
in a cozy circle
inside even the worst problem, 
then he sees again
that any problem 
is absolutely soaked with wisdom,
which makes the problem 
both whimsical and serious.
He knows that wherever a problem has been
is now a celebrated spot, 
and so he says
he does a lot of celebrating.

And here are some serious walkers …

Blossoming

A HOLY BACKYARD

I recall that somewhere in the Bible the phrase “a holy place ” is used, and I thought of it today as I was sitting in our backyard surrounded by Delycia’s now overflowing flower gardens. These days, our backyard seems as holy a place as any church. People go to church to worship what’s beautiful and good and true, and I find the beautiful, good, and true in our backyard on a daily basis. What is more beautiful than a crowd of pink rose blossoms, and what is more full of goodness than flourishing trees sharing their shade on a sunny day? And where is the truth, and the whole truth, better found than in an everyday backyard with breezes blowing by and birds swooping and singing all around? I agree with Emily Dickinson, who said she kept the Sabbath by staying at home and listening in her garden to the sermons of God, “a noted Clergyman”. What better sermon is there than the sight of iris blossoms floating on their stems, or the sound of songbirds having dignified discussions while perched on a feeder full of seeds?

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Below are some slides of the blossoms in Delycia’s lovely – and holy – garden today:

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BEING LIKE A GOD

He wished to be like a god. 
It would be good to have a golden life, 
like a light was always glowing around him. 
It would be special 
to see himself shining like a star
as he shops at the grocery store,
or to feel like fresh flowers 
are blossoming around his thoughts all day long. 
Dangers would steal away from him 
for fear of his powers.
Goodness would grow around him like grass. 
Steep, sharp hills 
would become easy trails 
he could stroll with satisfaction. 
 
He occasionally wished this,
but almost always he soon noticed 
the starry shine in the skin of his hands,
and the golden light on his shoulders 
from the lamp in the living room. 
 

Comfort

Four very comfortable ducks resting by the side of the road as we passed on our bikes this morning …

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COMFORTABLE WORDS 

“. . . he spake and cheered his Table Round

With [. . .] comfortable words.”

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Idylls of the King”

            In my reading not long ago, I came across Tennyson’s phrase “comfortable words”, and I wondered if I should pay more attention to those kinds of words in the future. The word “comfort” derives from the Latin word for “strength”, suggesting that strong words, those that communicate with a gentle and loving kind of power, can also be the most comfortable ones. We say something is comfortable when it’s soothing and restful, and perhaps strong, straightforward words, clearly shared with love, can bring that kind of comfort to us. After all, sometimes just being in the presence of health-giving strength can cause us to rest in reassurance, knowing that not much can harm us with so much forthright spirit close by. Words that do their work in a caring but forceful way can reassure us, settle us down, and send us toward some faith that this world can be considerably more comfortable than painful.  

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A WEEK OF BARGAINS

This week there are super savings for everyone.
You can enjoy the comforting warmth of the sun
 
for no cost at all, and lighthearted joy can barge
through your days absolutely free of charge.
 
You can get kindness just by being kind
to others, and you will easily find
 
wonderful bargains in the department of peace
and patience. If you want to buy a piece
 
of the cake called contentment, just hold
out your hands, and you'll hear the word "Sold!"
Here’s a little guy finding comfort in a drink of water next to Jane Austen.

And don’t these beautiful foxglove flowers in Delycia’s garden look comfortable?

Trusting

When I was teaching, occasionally my classes would get a little away from me, as though activities were sort of happening by themselves and I was simply following along. I always carefully planned my lessons, but on many occasions I felt like the lessons were running me instead of the opposite. It wasn’t a good feeling. I felt like things were out of my control, and consequently I felt like a failure as a teacher. This usually led to this thought: “I have to get control of things tomorrow!” – but then, thankfully, another thought usually came to me, an opposite one“Maybe I need to give up a little control instead of constantly struggling to maintain it.” Perhaps the learning that occurred in my classroom on those ‘out of control’ days was deep and powerful, only I didn’t notice it because I was too absorbed in my own personal issues concerning control. While I was worrying about keeping track of all the pieces of my lesson plan (as well as all the students), perhaps the kids were quietly learning. Picture a man standing at the seaside trying to control the winds. He’s dashing here and there, wildly waving his arms, and, of course, the winds constantly escape his grasp. That was me in my classroom now and then. I realized, again and again, that I needed to stop all the obsessive nonsense about control and just loosen up and be thankful for what was happening in the classroom. I always made a meticulous lesson plan, and my students were well-behaved, so perhaps I just needed to let the plan do its work. I trust the wind to blow where it must, and this morning, on our walk by the Mystic River, I saw this rower moving smoothly down river, obviously trusting the oars and the river to reliably move her along. Back in my classroom years ago, I just needed to trust my lesson plans, too.

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BE AND LET AND TRUST

(Andy H., 70, Blessings, CT)
 
He knows
the universe works well 
without his help. 
The trees in winds can work their waves 
and bends with no input from him, 
and clouds float soft and light 
without his crackerjack advice. 
Good breath lifts up his lungs 
with ease and poise,
and he’s amazed 
to feel them rise and fall. 
He knows 
he never has to take control, 
since life does all the work. 
He only has to be, 
and let, 
and trust.
 
 

From our walk yesterday in Canonchet Preserves (RI): stones trusting each other …