Due warning - this is personal. And yet it is appropriate for me to offer here for several reasons.
First and foremost we are a community whose members share many things besides our activism and commitment to electoral politics and social and moral issues.
Second, I have been a highly visible member of this community for a number of years. I am finding that how I participate is changing, and I feel obligated to explain that to this community which has supported and encouraged me in what I have written here, now over a period exceeding a decade.
Third, how I understand and perceive now is what actually fuels my political activities of all sorts - and for me the nature of politics is very broad.
If you are not interested, perhaps viewing me as being self-indulgent or self-obsessed, no reason for you to continue reading, although of course you are still free to do so and to post the appropriately critical or dismissive comments.
Perhaps this will speak to few, perhaps to none, perhaps to more than I can anticipate.
It is what it is.
So if interested, please follow below the fold.
There have been many things in the past few years that have perhaps finally come to a crucial and cumulative point, perhaps very late in life (I am now 68) but not too late to make a difference.
For reference - I tried retiring from teaching in June 2012. That left me very much at loose ends as I explored other options to occupy my energy. It also however briefly jeopardized the most important thing in my life, my relationship with Leaves on the Current. We had started to work through that, I had returned to teaching in a challenging environment, when we found out about her cancer. That first night of January 27, 2013 was the longest night of both of our lives. The preliminary news seemed devastating, and required that both of us grow and trust in ways we had never expected to encounter.
I had to leave teaching and become a caregiver.
By last Fall I was back in a classroom, my wife having recovered sufficiently and having urged me to return to teaching.
In September I began service on the Ministry and Worship Committee for Langley Hill Monthly Meeting, the Quaker community which is my spiritual home. In that capacity I had to reflect upon the nature of our worship and community, something I could not do without serious self-examination.
In late December I began a serious practice of Yoga at a studio in DC. My principal teacher, who also teaches a class where we reflect upon various things, will from time to time remind us that the practice is meant to break us, that is, to break our self-conceptions and illusions and our stubbornness.
All of this is the material from which the reflection that now begins has developed.
Anyone who knows me understands that I am a shy extravert, that I am socially awkward, that I am very insecure in many ways. I am stubborn, can be very controlling (ask my wife). I have hidden for much of my life behind my ability to be quick of mind, with spoken and as I aged written words.
I sought affirmation for achievements and insight because I did not, despite the continuous and never broken love I have been given for what in a matter of weeks will be 40 years from Leaves on the Current.
And yet, I was never at home in my intellect. I am far less a creature of the mind than I am of the heart and of the psyche.
I have struggled with depression, in large part because I was alienated from myself, and thus even when others offered affirmations I could not rest in them, because a part of me felt false.
The place in the world I felt most at home was in Greece, at the Monastery of Simona Petra on Mount Athos, a place whose abbot was my spiritual father for about a decade.
On a trip in 1983, where I followed him to a convent that he also served as spiritual father, we had one of the most important conversations of my life. I was wrestling with whether I should ask to join the monastery.
Geronda, as we called Pater Aimilianos, put his head down for several minutes. He then looked at me and spoke softly as one of the nuns translated for me (my Greek is minimal and he really does not speak English). Here as nearly as I can remember them 3 decades later are the words he shared with me (using J--- for my wife's name; he has never met or communicated with her).
"You could make a very good monk, but your entire life has been a preparation to be married.
Go home and marry J---. And remember:
You are a sensitive soul, but she is more sensitive soul.
Defer to her."
We did not marry for another two years.
It was not until her illness that I began to live the idea of deferring to her.
Also relevant to this is a conversation I had years ago with the LCSW who was counseling us in an early period of difficulty in our relationship. I had had several breakdowns, and what I told the LCSW that if I had another, I might not return: I would let go of "sanity" and not come back.
It has taken me until now to realize that my framing of that was wrong.
I needed to be broken as my yoga teacher said of the practice.
When I am most myself I am very fragile, and it is that very fragility that enables me to go on, as odd as that may seem. I am fragile because I let go of myself and become open - to the real presence of those around me.
When I am like that, if I am in a social situation inevitably small children and cats crawl on me, and dogs curl up at my feet. It is not that I lack energy, but that I let go of it, if that makes any sense, and then I have space to share in the energy of others.
In the summer of 1974 I spent 5+ weeks at an Episcopalian Benedictine monastery, St. Gregory's Abbey, near Kalamazoo. I was there exploring the possibility of a monastic vocation. I had to return to the Philadelphia suburbs where I lived because of a crisis involving the Episcopal parish of which I was then a member. I remember I flew from Kalamazoo to Detroit Metro, and while I was waiting for my flight to Philadelphia stopped in restaurant and was overwhelmed: for five weeks I have been able to give full attention to all persons I encountered, to be totally open to them, and now surrounded by hundreds of people I felt bombarded and wanted to shut down.
As a teacher I have to use my mind.
I read a lot. I try to learn, and much of that will of course be through the filter of my intellect.
I realized years ago that I would not be a monk. Nor while I was in first the Episcopal and then the Orthodox Church would I ever become ordained clergy.
But as my now wife saw very early on, I have a pastoral streak - that involves teaching, sometimes it involves counseling, sometime just listening and playing people's words back to them, sometimes simply being present, or a gentle touch, sometimes just holding them attentively in my heart.
Intellectually I have understood for quite some time that i cannot close it, that I must be willing to break it open in order both to give and to receive love.
Love - what really matters.
The deep connection with others, including some I may never "know" in the conventional sense.
In recent months I have reread several hundred of the more than 3,000 diaries I have posted here. The ones that speak with the greatest truth are those that come from someplace deep, not because I am deep, but because that depth is a connection with something very much beyond myself. Then I find words that may help make sense of what otherwise might be something not fully grasped.
A few days ago I was at a political event for the Democratic candidate for the 48th House of Delegates district in VA, for which there is a special election in less than two weeks. The hostess asked a favor of me - she, herself a candidate for school board, had found herself getting very frazzled. Knowing I did yoga she asked it I could perhaps offer something that would help those in attendance let go of the tension even without losing the commitment necessary to win what will be a competitive race in what is otherwise a heavily Democratic district.
I do not teach yoga.
But I understand from my wandering through many religious traditions and my exploration of a variety of practices the universal importance of breath.
Trusting that in not using my mind I might be able to share something of value, I joked a bit then helped people simply take a few moments to focus on their breaths as they breathed normally, then a bit of inhaling, holding it a bit, and then letting it out. I offered a few words about stopping to breath before we react - whether to the normal incidents of daily life or the vicissitudes of political discourse.
I do not post here as frequently.
In the past I might read something by Krugman, or Kristof, or Robinson, or Blow, and if no one else had yet written about it feel that I should.
I still read them.
I write about them less frequently. It has to connect with something besides my intellect. I have to feel as if my writing adds something of value.
This diary may not get a single recommend. It may receive no comments. That does not matter.
It may get excoriated. It may get praised. Those too do not matter.
I am passionate about many things. But that passion must be rooted in something else.
For want of a better word call it gentleness.
I still live in a world full of impatience, and as a result one that often lacks understanding, true understanding, which requires more than intellect, at least for me.
Recently someone who has encountered me in some yoga related events told me I was brilliant, then repeated that to a mutual friend.
I was uncomfortable in the direct conversation. I was wrong to be uncomfortable. I should not attempt to control how others react. I should be no more comfortable or uncomfortable than if he told me I was an idiot.
I am slowly learning to be grateful if someone offers a compliment, and equally grateful for much of the criticism I receive.
Please do not misunderstand. I still have an ego. I enjoy using my mind.
But my mind is only a part of me.
It matters less if my mind be open or closed if my heart and soul are shut off.
My mind should be neither a weapon nor a defense.
It should be a tool, and like any tool it can be used well or misused to cause harm.
I no longer wish to misuse it.
I no longer wish to cause harm either deliberately nor through thoughtlessness nor especially through being unfeeling and/or uncaring.
A person, any person, is more important than a political point.
And I should remember, I need to apply that to myself - that is, I need to value myself not as an intellect nor for my professional work even as I should respect both, but rather I should value my heart and how it enables me to connect with the world and the other creatures therein.
There are things I read I will still want to share. Having recently finished Piketty's magnum opus, there are thoughts I might choose to share, once I have processed them with more than my intellect. There are books on education that I have been asked by others to read and then about which they would like me to write. I believe I can still help others make sense of what the real nature of teaching and learning in the classroom are, and i will from time to time continue to do that as well.
Sometimes, as with this piece, I will help myself make sense of things by writing about them.
Other times I may just sit silently in the presence of others around me in a coffee shop, or let go of my other concerns and really listen to music.
As I have come to these understandings, the tension in my body is lessening - the practice of yoga has helped to break me. That practice is about much more than the physical activities of the asanas, it is even much more than connecting with my own breath.
In a sense it is a connection with a universal breath, if that makes any sense.
I began yoga to reconnect with my physical self.
I open my eyes, ears, nose and skin to all the beauty around me, for even in the ugliest of situations there are still things of beauty, often because of something living, sometimes because of light or color or fragrance or sound.
I used to fear being "broken." Now I welcome it.
I am not afraid of tears.
And as my eyes become moist i smile with my whole face, or as I have seen with a few others, perhaps even with my whole body.
This community has contributed mightily to my willingness to be broken, and thereby to grow.
I have gotten much - affirmation to be sure, support, even love.
I hope I have given back.
I will stay.
I will read and reflect.
If I think I have something of value to offer, even if perhaps only to one or two people. I will.
Understand that despite being willing to be broken, I am still shy.
I am no longer afraid of that.
I am no longer afraid that in being gentle others might think me weak. That does not matter. What matters is that I am honest.
My truth is gentleness, and from that comes whatever honest passion or valuable insight I might have to offer.
Make of this what you will.
And thanks for putting up with me.