where spirituality and social justice meet a magazine by Still Harbor : issue 1, spring 2014
Roshi Joan Halifax on compassion for the dying poetry from
Jimmy Santiago Baca contemplative activism with
Rev. Steve Bonsey
Cover Artwork: “Victoria” by Kirby Erlandson
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ANCHOR LETTER FROM THE EDITORS - 5 ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTORS & EDITORS - 6 INSPIRATIONS & EXPLORATIONS - 44 ARTICLES Social Justice in Practice - 9 by Jean Bosco Niyonzima, M.D., M.A. The Activist as Contemplative - 14 by Rev. Steve Bonsey Immortality - 16 by Nadia Colburn, Ph.D. Freedom - 22 by Rev. Julie Barnes, LMHC Compassion as a Guide for Care for the Dying - 31 by Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D. Plans - 36 by Phil Garrity
POETRY To Live a Life is Not to Just Cross a Fieldâ€Ś. - 8 by Ariadne Clifton Unmask the Clown, My Witness - 13 by C. Perry Dougherty Who Understands Me But Me - 30 by Jimmy Santiago Baca Thou: A Prayer of the Heart - 46 by Pelle Lowe
ARTWORK There is a Lot of Money in the Lake - 23 by Kirby Erlandson A Global Collaboration - 38 by Elissa Melaragno
where spirituality and social justice meet Published by Still Harbor, Inc.
C. Perry Dougherty Nadia Colburn, Ph.D. Elissa Melaragno
STILL HARBOR TEAM
Edward Cardoza, M.A.Min. C. Perry Dougherty Charles Howes Ruth Nkemontoh Sandy North, MBA Colleen Sharka, LMHC Lauren Spahn
Opinions and ideas expressed in this magazine are the opinions and ideas of the authors and may not represent Still Harbor or the editors.
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Still Harbor publishes a Spring and a Fall issue of Anchor filled with content that explores the ways spirituality and social justice intersect in our lives and our societies today. We strive to include a diverse collection of personal narratives, spiritual ideas and practices, and creative expressions.
ABOUT STILL HARBOR
Still Harbor believes that spirituality cultivates the depth of imagination, courage, and service needed to transform an unjust world. Still Harbor advances this vision by offering spiritual formation and accompaniment to individuals and organizations concerned with human thriving and social justice. Read more at stillharbor.org.
INSTITUTE FOR SPIRITUAL FORMATION & SOCIETY
As an initiative of Still Harbor, the Institute aims to offer resources, facilitation, teaching, and consulting that help individuals and organizations integrate the spiritual perspectives and processes essential to social justice into their lives, communities, and institutions.
CENTER FOR DISCERNMENT & ACTION
Still Harbor’s Kaneb-White Center for Discernment & Action is a neutral place, unaffiliated with any one institution or tradition, where individuals and organizations can come to explore, encounter, or immerse in spirituality through spiritual companionship, events, workshops, retreats, year-long programs, and/ or residency.
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A LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
It is an honor
to release this inaugural issue of Anchor after what has been nearly two years of reflection, expression, and conversation. The three of us came together for the first time in a workshop series at Still Harbor, entitled Writing as Contemplative Practice. The series offered space for us to share stories and silences, to explore expressions and experiences, and most importantly, to ask questions of ourselves and of the sacred. Our shared fascination with the simultaneous knowing and unknowing that seemed to emerge in the places where spirituality and social justice meet in our lives and work propelled us into this project. Our interest only deepened as we gathered with potential contributors at last year’s Serving Our Communities: The role of spirituality in making change conference hosted by Still Harbor and Imago Dei Fund. At last, this spring, we assembled the set of essays, poems, and artwork you find here in hopes of creating a publication that allows its reader—you—to open up to an experience of witness. The selections in this issue, in particular, all offer some form of testimonial, ranging from mystical to pragmatic. Roshi Joan Halifax shares stories of compassionate accompaniment of the dying. Kirby Erlandson shares portraits and voices from Muhuru Bay, Kenya. Julie Barnes offers a winding inner reflection on freedom. “Kiev 2002,” Collage on Paper, by Elissa Melaragno And we could go on. We believe that the diverse voices, traditions, and perspectives of our contributors in this issue, and over time, will open up a meaningful exploration of the intersection of spirituality and social justice. As editors, we have been asking ourselves how thoughts, beliefs, ideas, personal narratives, spiritual practices, and creative expressions can help us understand both spirituality and social justice more deeply. We have asked what is the source and meaning of spirituality and social justice for ourselves and for others, and we have wanted to know how the two can support each other. Sometimes these questions (and others) have seemed answerless. But then we will encounter a story that grips us in body, mind, and spirit, or we will discover a work of art that offers us an experience of the strength of life that awes and amazes us. From this place of witness, we remember the beauty and knowing of our shared existence and feel connected to something greater than ourselves. The world can be a difficult and daunting place, especially for those of us on the front lines of social justice work. But to go into service and activism without such remembrance and connection is even more daunting. Even amidst pain and uncertainty, the power of what we share and the ways we connect can uphold us. Our wish is that this publication will offer moments of encounter and experience with the source of such power and connection, and so, we invite you now into a small moment of retreat with these pages. We invite you to bear witness to your Self, to the stories and expressions of Others, and to the Sacred or unknown; for it is from such experiences that we are able to see clearly where spirituality and social justice meet.
With peace and love,
Perry, Nadia, and Elissa
“...we invite you now into a small moment of retreat with these pages...” ANCHOR
CONTRIBUTORS & EDITORS
JIMMY SANTIAGO BACA
Born in New Mexico of Indio-Mexican descent, Jimmy Santiago Baca served a five-year sentence in a maximum security prison, during which he began to turn his life around, eventually emerging as a writer. He is a winner of the Pushcart Prize, the American Book Award, the International Hispanic Heritage Award, and, for his memoir, “A Place to Stand,” the prestigious International Award. He teaches writing workshops and is the founder of Cedar Tree Inc.
REV. JULIE BARNES, LMHC
Julie Barnes is a creative whirlwind of dance, yoga, prose poems, listening, and laughter. By day, she supervises and trains staff of community health programs on holistic approaches to mental health, collaboration, and self-care. By night, she holds sacred space for movement, builds community with fellow artists and activists, and finds the joy in simple activities of daily life. Her interfaith spiritual path is about service, respectful dialogue, finding pleasure in dynamic relationships, and experiencing the Love we all are through movement, stillness, song, and silence.
REV. STEVE BONSEY
Steven Bonsey has worked as a parish priest and campus minister for the Episcopal Church. He studies with Cynthia Bourgeault and serves as Chaplain for the Leadership Development Initiative (diomassleads.org).
Ariadne Clifton has been exploring and telling her personal story through her poetry. She was born in Yugoslavia to Russian parents (members of a Russian emigre community) who were forced to flee their country during the 1917 Revolution. At the time of the Second World War her family once again fled the communists in Yugoslavia. She spent the first six years of her life in refugee camps with her grandparents. The Russian language and the mysticism of her Russian Orthodox faith hold her fast to her family, her heritage, and their losses.
NADIA COLBURN, Ph.D. (EDITOR)
Nadia Colburn’s poetry and prose have been published in more than fifty national publications, including The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, Slate.com, Yes! Magazine, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in English and currently teaches private creative writing workshops. For many years she worked as a volunteer counselor with the GI Rights hotline. Some of her other interests include deep ecology, yoga, and Buddhism. She is currently an OI Aspirant in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Nadia lives in Cambridge, MA with her husband and two children. See more about Nadia at www.nadiacolburn.com
C. PERRY DOUGHERTY (EDITOR)
Perry Dougherty serves as a facilitator, spiritual director, and writer in her role as Director of the Institute for Spiritual Formation & Society of Still Harbor. She has a background working with nonprofit social justice organizations. She tailors her programs, workshops, and efforts to explore how spiritual practice, creative expression, and narrative can enrich spiritual leadership for social justice. Perry will be ordained as an Interfaith Minister in June 2014 by One Spirit Interfaith Seminary.
CONTRIBUTORS & EDITORS
Kirby Erlandson graduated from Duke University with a degree in Global Health Politics & Policy in 2011. She currently works with the organization Last Mile Health to improve health care access in remote areas of Liberia. She enjoys exploring how the arts can best be utilized to promote social justice and equality.
Since 2011, Phil Garrity has worked with Partners In Health, an international NGO that delivers health care in poor communities worldwide. This coming fall he will begin a Master of Divinity program at Boston College, where he hopes to continue exploring the intersection of psychology and spirituality in the care of the sick.
ROSHI JOAN HALIFAX, Ph.D.
Joan Halifax is a Buddhist teacher, Abbot and Founder of Upaya Zen Center, author, and social activist.
Pelle Lowe is a writer, experimental filmmaker, and intermedia artist. She began writing at the William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass, Boston. Her recent poems have appeared in FIELD: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics; the Arch Literary Journal from Washington University; the online magazine Inertia; and Cyphers, an Irish literary journal.
ELISSA MELARAGNO (EDITOR)
Elissa Melaragno has been deeply involved with art, holistic healing, writing, and spirituality since the age of 18. As professional visual artist, Elissa has work in private and public art collections in North Carolina, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. For her, writing has been an ongoing part of the process of creating art and deepening spirituality.
JEAN BOSCO NIYONZIMA, M.D., M.A.
Jean Bosco Niyonzima is a Rwandan physician, currently working as the founding director of clinical programs for PIVOT, a non-profit service organization in rural Madagascar. Prior to working with PIVOT, Jean Bosco served as the Medical Director of Last Mile Health/Tiyatien Health in Liberia. Jean Bosco has previously worked with Partners In Health and completed his Masters in Sustainable Development at SIT Graduate Institute. He is committed to social justice and human emancipation in our world of contradictions.
TO LIVE A LIFE IS NOT TO JUST CROSS A FIELD... by Ariadne Clifton
To Live a Life is Not to Just Cross a Field…. Russian Proverb Harvest season with its dry hot days. New country, new language. My aunt, my grandmother, and I took a walk through a field of tall and fragrant grasses; sunlight bounced about the cloud shadows. They chatted in Russian about simple things— nothing to do with the war they had just witnessed, the dead they left behind or the cruelty they remembered in their dreams nightly. I skipped along the narrow path between the grasses. Suddenly they froze. Far ahead appeared a small figure of a man. The sun was bright behind him. We could see the outline of a scythe in his hand. Holding my hand tightly, my grandmother pulled forward, walked past the stranger, crossed to the far end of the field bordering the woods.
“Kjiv 2001” Oil, Mixed Media on Canvas by Elissa Melaragno
SOCIAL JUSTICE IN PRACTICE Leading healing and change in communities at the margins of society by Dr. Jean Bosco Niyonzima “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” - Martin Luther King Jr. Suffering, awakening and commitment to social justice A personal story I’m a physician, originally from a rural village in Rwanda. I was twenty years old in 1994 when the genocide in my country took the lives of almost one million people in just 90 days. Being witness to this horrendous suffering and mass violence shook my Christian self and engulfed me in an existential crisis which forced me to ask myself hard questions. What is the meaning and the purpose of life and what is my place in it? Why do people have to suffer so much? Why does God allow such sufferings? Wrestling with these questions has been a long and painful journey, but it has also been a necessary one for my liberation. I read many books, and intellectually I could understand that suffering is like a messenger, an opportunity to learn and grow individually and collectively, yet I was still experiencing deep pain within myself.
As a Christian evolved in a dualistic spirituality, I had been struggling to feel and experience God who thus far seemed very distant to me and indifferent to my suffering. Until one day, as I read the verse of John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” I felt the presence of God within me. In his book, En relisant les Evangiles, Arnaud Desjardin used this verse to describe, in the language of the Gospel, a non-dualistic Christian spirituality. With this experience, I began a practice of Tai-Chi, and John’s verse became my daily prayer. I again felt God “increase” in me as I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s work The Power of Now.
“What is the meaning and the purpose of life and what is my place in it? Why do people have to suffer so much? Why does God allow such sufferings?”
I read Gandhi’s book, All Men are Brothers, which helped me to understand that, more than anything else, Rwanda needed spiritual healing. With the additional help of a spiritual mentor and readings on Liberation Theology from the Catholic Christian tradition, I realized that the best way that I could contribute to the spiritual healing of Rwanda was through social justice service—dedicating myself to working preferentially for and in solidarity with poor people to help them regain their power and change the unjust social structure that was the root cause of violence and suffering. Having witnessed time and again the vicious cycle of poverty and disease in which the poorer you are, the sicker you become, and of course, the sicker you are, the poorer you become, bringing social justice into the world through the field of medicine made the most sense to me as a vocational calling. Unfortunately, the poorest, especially in the remotest areas, are often those most forgotten by healthcare systems, which meant I was signing up for a long road full of many kinds of individual and collective suffering. In my fourth year of studies, I thought about quitting ANCHOR
medicine all together. During my practicals in a pediatric malnutrition ward, I was shocked to see how doctors and nurses were only focusing on treating symptoms. No one was asking how to create opportunities for mothers to sustainably address the problem of lack of food, which was the root cause of malnutrition in all of these small children. Being confronted with these systemic limits challenged my admiration for and beliefs in classical medicine as a way of contributing to the healing of my fellow citizens, and this realization worsened my existential crisis. How, as a doctor, could I contribute to the healing of the world not only by treating diseases but also by addressing the underlying causes like poverty? What was my impact going to be?
Over time, I began to feel uniquely connected with what Tolle calls “something immeasurable and indestructible” or what I might call a feeling of oneness with the whole being. My spiritual identity as a SOUL (Single Outflow of the Universal Life) became a reality that I began to live through my daily life. My personal and vocational commitment to healing through social justice became more real and rooted in my awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings, mindful that as Martin Luther King, Jr. has written, “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Herein began the end of my suffering. I awakened to peace with everything. In communion and in love with everything, I was able to find meaning in everything. Ten years later, I can attest that the experience I had through that time in my life has remained an indelible part of my being. With this awakening, the field of medicine took on a different sense. I began to focus on the healing and devel-
Bridge in Konobo before LMH supported its rebuilding
opment of the whole person, integrating my understanding and knowledge of the biological, psychosocial, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of life. Suddenly, as a doctor and a healer for those at the margins of the society, I became connected to the most transformative and rewarding work I could do in this world. I am now engaging with communities alienated by the oppressive and exploitative systems; giving hope to the hopeless; and working in solidarity with people for emancipation from all kinds of social injustices such as classism, sexism, racism, and militarism. In all that I do now, I honor that the real revolution is evolution. I know now that, as Thomas Merton believed, for any radical social, cultural, political, or human change to be real and truly effective in the long run, it has to be spiritual. Putting values into practice A story of courage and creative imagination From 2011 to 2013, I served as the Medical Director to Last Mile Health (LMH), an organization working on the front lines of health care in rural Liberia. Through this post, I was able to bring the notion of spiritual healing and transformation into the field of healthcare delivery in collaboration with other pioneering leaders like Dr. Raj Panjabi, the co-founder of the LMH. LMH’s program in the Konobo District of Liberia is a real story of courage and creative imagination. Konobo is one of the most remote districts, located in the southeastern region, near Ivory Coast. According to the government figures, the District has 34,000 people living in 42 com-
munities, all scattered in a dense rainforest. There is only one health center, which, before LMH arrived, was geographically accessible to only one third of its population. The roads to and within Konobo were (and many still are) treacherous with very dangerous bridges, if any. Before 2012, health indicators were amongst the worst in Liberia. Despite fierce opposition and discouragements from different powerful security and health stakeholders, Konobo was where Last Mile Health decided to go and begin an innovative community-based health service delivery program. Nearly everyone told us that providing health care in Konobo was unwise and not feasible. It was “too far,” “too difficult,” “too expensive,” and “too dangerous.” The decision to go where others didn’t dare go took extraordinary faith and courage. As a team, we committed to finding solutions together and to challenging the orthodoxy and status quo. I’m happy to say that our efforts paid off. Today, all of the District is being served by well trained, supervised, equipped, and incentivized Frontline Health Workers (FHW), who together form a network of care in support of the health center. In only one year, the health indicators improved exponentially. Even more inspiring to me than these indicators, however, is the feeling that LMH and all of its members share values of love, compassion, and courage. At all levels of the organization, people are bringing a kind of spiritual grit to the hardest-to-reach corners of the District. Last year, I was called by a nurse for medical support at the Konobo Health Center to help manage a fourSTILL HARBOR
year-old male patient—we’ll call him Patrick—who was admitted for cerebral malaria with hypovolemic shock. I arrived to find my colleague, Markson (an FHW from a distant village) at the bedside with Patrick’s parents. Markson had identified danger signs in the child—seizures and impairment of consciousness—and made the diagnosis in Patrick’s home. Markson immediately referred and accompanied Patrick and his parents to the health center 30 kilometers away. One year earlier, before the FHWs were trained to diagnose and treat malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, and malnutri-
Markson (right) on a home visit.
tion in infants and children under 5 years, most of children living in the distant villages with such conditions would have died with no access to dignified healthcare services. Today, this is no longer the case. Patrick’s parents gave birth to six children, three of whom died from infectious conditions before they reached two years of age. And the same fate would have awaited Patrick had it not been for Markson’s service. To reach the health center as fast as possible, they used motorbikes, crossing the bridges, which had been repaired by the community through the financial support of LMH. Without those bridges, which were impassible a year earlier, what good would our FHW network be? Needless to say, LMH had comprehensively considered each level and challenge ANCHOR
to the healthcare delivery system so that Patrick could get the care he needed. Without LMH, and specifically without Markson, Patrick would have died like so many others whose parents previously considered it impossible to get health care in the rainforest. My service in rural Liberia as a foreigner—and as the first doctor in the history of such a remote district— helped change the many skeptical minds who had told us it was “too far,” “too expensive,” and “too dangerous.” As a friend working with an international non-governmental organization told me when he visited the place, “This is really the most difficult place I have ever seen, you are a real humanitarian.” But, whether they call me “humanitarian,” “bush doctor,” or “bush cowboy,” it isn’t just about me. As God “increases” within me, I feel more responsible to contribute to the emancipation of those who are marginalized through a service of love and solidarity. LMH provides opportunities to work in solidarity for a real social transformation not only to me but also to the people of the District who had been forgotten for so long. Markson himself touts the LMH spirit of love, courage, and service—a spirit that helped unlock his potential for healing through service and a spirit that he inherited much as I did during my own personal transformation back in Rwanda. I never once saw Markson surrender in the face of difficulties. His selflessness, courage, and dedication to his community inspires trust and credibility among his neighbors. His accompaniment of Patrick reflects the love he has for his patients. His fruitful collaboration with the medical staff at the clinic shows his confidence and commitment to helping save lives, whatever it takes. It doesn’t just happen The role of transformational leadership I had the privilege to serve the LMH program in Konobo as a leader, and over my time there, I experienced how leadership is an opportunity to empower people and to inspire them to unlock their (sometimes hidden) potential. I learned that this had to be done by example—I was called to share who I am and how I am committed to serving with humility, love, compassion, dignity, selflessness, and courage. I believe that a healed and transformed leader inspires others through the values he or she lives, which then spread contagiously to others. Working collaboratively with other exemplary leaders deepened my commitment to trying to live my spiritual values through every interaction. This, I believe, is what created that culture of collective courage, love, compassion, and creative imagination that has made
“Through this service and these relationships, I commit to staying tethered to how I’m both healer and in need of healing so that my ongoing transformation can unfold.” LMH what it is today. I know that Raj, Markson, and I all went through different paths of healing and transformation, but through our own processes, we each recognized that we share an interconnected vision of life and humanity. The three of us, and so many others working with LMH, believe that by living this vision, serving others can be, in and of itself, continuously healing and transformative. It’s like a boomerang effect. The healing is ongoing and collective. The transformation is ongoing and collective. This ethos penetrates all levels of LMH’s committed staff, like Markson who is committed to traveling alongside the destitute sick for 30 kilometers or more to ensure they get the care they need or like the driver who said jokingly when our car was stuck in the mud, “no retreat, no surrender.” Through this service and these relationships, I commit to staying tethered to how I’m both healer and in need of healing so that my ongoing transformation can unfold. It’s amazing to see the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. lived out through our collective efforts. He said, and I feel, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Organizations and communities living a culture of collective courage, love, compassion, and creative imagination are quite unique, and they don’t just happen. As leaders of LMH, we took responsibility and ownership of our own healing and transformation first and foremost. Only with deep awareness of ourselves could our work inspire and instill a vision and a set of values in the organization. I wish I could share all of the stories of healing and transformation from Konobo.
We may all take different paths with our healing. And yet, one of the primary reasons we ought to be concerned with our own relationship with suffering in these efforts is because the temptation to succumb to discouragement, fears, possessions, power, honors, and more in the face of life’s pain is high. Gandhi said, “They first ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” So, what happens when we win? It is profoundly important to be aware of the temptations and negative forces within and around us, so that we remain open to changing ourselves as we serve others. Working with LMH gave me the opportunity to introduce the notion of quality improvement in the hospital in rural Liberia. Most of the health professionals I met there were initially very reluctant to do what offering quality care would require of them. Despite my frustration, I decided to work in a way that is aligned to my values. After one year, one doctor colleague of mine told me very candidly, “We are very proud of you and grateful that you changed the perception of what quality care is in our hospital. We first thought you were crazy when you were rounding five hours while others could not go beyond one hour. But the fact that you consistently kept the grit, many of us felt challenged, which pushed us in changing our practices.” I had been tempted to give in, to give up, to stop trying so hard, but my vocational calling wouldn’t let me. Ten years since awakening to the healing that I needed in my life, I can say that deep within me, I know what it means to be the change I want to see in the world, as Gandhi said. But, again, this social justice service put into practice isn’t about me. It is, rather, about cultivating the presence of God within me and seeing it in others. §
This work of real social justice is not easy. For such efforts to bear fruits, they must be underpinned by a spiritual maturity, which is also not easy. I believe such efforts require courage, compassion, love, fearlessness, and faith in life. In order to evolve to a level of experiential and lived understanding of such values, it is incumbent upon each of us as individuals to go through a personal transformation in relationship to suffering. Some may find the meaning of their suffering through a biblical verse or inspiring book like in my case, others may need to meet inspirational people who believe in them as in Markson’s case, and some may need entirely different experiences.
UNMASK THE CLOWN, MY WITNESS by C. Perry Dougherty
Unmask the Clown, My Witness I can see into the heart of service as a sick child laughs at the ugliness of his own pain. His chuckle burns away the divide, and the warmth of his still beating heart touches the candy-striper clown, who, broken open and on fire, sheds his mask. From the ashes of their wound, the two rise together as one. When two hearts meet, both are brought back to life. Awakening is short lived. Shields of dead skin, thin veils of brittle armor constructed over time by pain, reinforce small mind compulsions, which like floods from below dampen the flints of compassion that see into the heart. I fear what will be lost if I don’t try to fit in. The servant, the disciple, the caregiver, and the lover, with tear drop eyes, red noses that honk, white painted cheeks, pixie dust tricks, give away sugary sweet goodies of pleasure and small trinkets of wealth. The mask of acceptance—an empty shell that once burned peacefully bright— role-plays as something more, forcefully forgetting that suffering lies on both sides of the altar. Awakening is short lived but not forgotten. A child’s chuckle breaks in. The clown, standing still next to me, in a small voice speaks to the ugliness and feels the truth of our pain— outside, within, it’s all the same. I see, again. Eyes wide open. No bells and whistles. A soul force on fire. Broken open, again. Witness, My Witness, you have come to me. Lead me. I will follow. I willfully shed. And, as if for the first time burning— I show up. I serve. Suffer. Smile Rise. And I begin again. Author’s Note: This poem is inspired by stories in the book How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. ANCHOR
THE ACTIVIST AS CONTEMPLATIVE Cliff hanging and the warrior-monk by Rev. Steve Bonsey The vocations of social activism and contemplative prayer would seem to have little in common, as little as the life of the archetypal warrior would have with that of the archetypal monk. The one is outwardly engaged, the other inwardly; the one is assertive in its disciplines, the other receptive. And yet, I believe that the two vocations have something to offer each other. In particular, I believe that the practice of contemplative prayer as handed down in the ancient Western Christian monastic tradition, as well as other inner disciplines from that tradition, have the potential to greatly enhance the life and work of the social activist today. What follows is the first in a series of articles for Anchor on what I believe to be the wisdom and the benefit of that practice and those disciplines. I hope to present a portrait of the activist as contemplative—the warrior as monk. Cliff hanging There is a story that I tell often in my work as a pastor because it sums up everything that I know about the spiritual life. I tell it in sermons, in counseling, and in spiritual direction, but mostly I tell it to myself. A hiker is taking a solitary walk in the mountains when he slips and falls down the face of a cliff. Somehow on the way down he catches hold of a branch, and he clings to it for dear life. He hangs there with no way to climb back up, no help for miles around, and a sheer drop to certain death below. After a while, he lifts his face to the heavens and says, “I have never been a praying man, but if there is anyone up there, I need you now!” A voice answers him and says, “Let go.” He looks down for a time and then looks back up to heaven and says, “Is there anyone else up there?” Like so many others, I have faced challenging situations in life and have taken hold of anything that could save me in the moment. In particular, through childhood and adolescence, facing situations that seemed overwhelming at the time, I took hold of any coping method that could get me through. So far, so good, but then I continued to cling to those methods over the years. I clung for dear life, even when it became clear that these methods no longer served me. In fact, it became clear that they were impeding my growth as
a person. I knew that I had to let them go. I also knew in my bones that letting go would just kill me. The first great “branch” I let go of in my adult life was my addiction to a substance. I had reached the point where addiction had made my life unmanageable and hardly worth living. Even so, the idea of letting go, of giving up my solace, filled me with terror. I knew that I would not be okay without it. I was afraid, and I was angry—angry at myself and anyone and everything, but also angry at God. I had been trying for years to fix myself, and it had driven me to despair. I needed a God who would fix me and fix the whole situation of my life. But “let go” was the last thing that I needed to hear from any heavenly voice. And yet there was no one else up there. I was desperate, and I had no choice. I had to let go. There have been many other lettings-go in my life since that day. I feel as if I have been peeling the proverbial onion, where releasing one attachment just opens the way to dealing with the next, deeper layer of life-denying dependency. For example, once I was clean and sober I found that I am compulsive at work, clinging to the approval and praise I receive for performance. If I let go of my perfectionism, I feel certain that I will fall into the abyss of mediocrity. I will be no one. I also discovered that I play games with people that love me in order to get from them the affection I crave. If I let go of my manipulations, I am certain that I will fall into the abyss of abandonment. I will be alone. Similarly, I noticed that I have struck a bargain with God. I am convinced that if I hold fast to certain beliefs, rituals, and rules, and if I champion certain just social causes, then God will save me, by which I mean that, along with any good I manage to do, I will feel good about myself, the world will see me as a great guy, and I will advance in honor and prestige. If I let go of these moral and religious performances, I am certain that I will be condemned to the abyss of meaninglessness. I will know that my life is pointless. At every deeper level of my psyche I find attachments that bind me up and prevent me from growing and experiencing greater freedom, peace and joy. But these attachments are all twisted up with things that make me who I am and make my life worthwhile, at least in my own eyes. STILL HARBOR
“Again and again, because I have had no other choice, in fear and trembling, I have let go.” My religious convictions, my moral commitments, my dreams for my life and hopes for serving the world—these are values that I hold dear. But what is the difference between a value that I hold dear and an attachment that I cling to? What happens when one comes to look like the other? With every attachment, I feel more certain that absolutely everything—my life, my family, the church, the world!— depends upon my hanging on, trying harder, being stronger and smarter, and getting it right. This way of thinking works for me until it doesn’t. I keep it up until I can’t. Then the drama sets in. One moment I am walking a path on solid ground, the next I am hanging from a branch, weak with exhaustion and despair, trembling with terror and rage. The many cliff-hangers of my life have been my teachers. Yes, I have to let go. The savior from on high that I am looking for does not exist. I will not be rescued. My life and the world around me will not become as they should be in my eyes. Neither I nor the situation will be fixed. I am powerless in my clinging. My rage is justified. Yes, when I let go, I will fall to my death. Life as I have known it will come to an end. There will be pain and sorrow. Something precious will be lost. Something that I rely on for safety, consolation, or strength will be taken. I will be left defenseless, powerless, and bereft. My terror is justified. Again and again, because I have had no other choice, in fear and trembling, I have let go. I have fallen to the rocks below, and I have fallen through them. I don’t know how else to put it. I have come to so many ends and found that it isn’t over. Below those rocks, there is death, loss and solitude; there is silence; there is Nothing. And in that Nothing, Something wells up. There is Life, not survival but something new. A wonderful surprise. This looks like nothing special. I get through a day clean and sober when once I knew that I couldn’t. At work, I leave my desk at the end of the day, knowing what’s done and what isn’t and letting that be. In my relationships, I let people love me in the way that they want to, even when I’m sure that they won’t. I lose my religion over and over, but my faith becomes stronger. I don’t do what I must do for the world, but I do what I can, and somehow it suffices for the moment. ANCHOR
That is my witness, hard won through a lot of psychic drama. Lately, the roller coaster has evened out a bit. I don’t need to reach a point of exhaustion or despair before I surrender. I take the initiative. I surrender on a daily basis. For about twenty minutes every morning and evening, I sit still in the prayer of inner silence. I let go of whatever comes up. The rage and terror still show up, and I welcome them. I let them flow from me. I notice whatever branch I am hanging on to, and I release it. I fall into silence. I drink from the fountain that flows in darkness. *** In the articles that will follow this one, I will not dwell in detail on any particular technique of this mode of “letting go” in prayer.* I believe that practices like these, which involve the intentional release of thoughts and emotion as well as the intentional turning, again and again, toward inner silence, are common in the mystical streams of many religious traditions (and outside of them as well). I will share, however, how the practice of this mode of prayer can benefit the life and work of anyone who works to address the evils of the world, particularly those who befriend and serve the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the oppressed. Such work presents grave challenges and boundless demands as well as rich rewards. But too often the challenges become dispiriting and the demands exhausting. What is more, the struggle with injustice as it is embedded in our social systems inevitably stirs up painful memories within. Old wounds are touched and old defenses are mobilized in ways that do not suit well to the present moment. At worst, the darkness we grapple with in the world calls out whatever darkness lies within us. We may come to imitate unconsciously the violence that we oppose, at great cost to ourselves, those who love us, and those at whose side we labor. For me, the exercise of letting go I have shared here, when practiced along with other regimens of self-care, yields a measure of serenity in the midst of struggle, healing for inner wounds, and growth in wisdom and compassion. I think that this can be good for all of us activists and for the people in the world who we desire to serve. § * My own practice involves a technique developed in the Christian tradition known as centering prayer. See p. 44-45 for my recommended reading on centering prayer.
IMMORTALITY by Nadia Colburn, Ph.D.
Several years ago, I wrote a poem, “Immortality,” in part as a kind of challenge: could I take some of the issues that I felt most sad and angry about and write about them? Could I go to spaces I had not looked at before? It was, I now believe, only by really going into those darker places that I was able to open up to a deep spiritual life. This poem is part of that journey. *** Immortality If I am writing a poem about Phillis Wheatley it is because history offers itself in names, in a few spare facts: that she came to Massachusetts at the age of seven, seven or eight, facts hardly facts, that they called her Phillis, the name of the ship on which she made the middle passage. If I am writing a poem about Phillis Wheatley, it is because she wrote poetry in another language, not her own, the language of the people who gave her their name, the Wheatleys who bought the girl for three dollars, though she was younger than what they had hoped, in that language I call my own. If I am writing a poem it is because of the poems that she wrote, the poems she did not. “Imagination,” Phillis writes, “who can sing thy force?” and sees it flying through air to a God whom she thanks: “‘twas mercy,” she says, “brought me from my Pagan land. taught my benighted soul to understand.” Understanding! And no one could believe that a slave could do that, that a slave girl could do that. To prove that she was the author she stood before the great men of Boston, his excellency THOMAS HUTCHINSON, Governor, by The Hon. ANDREW OLIVER, Lieutenant Governor, and answered their questions, four years before the revolution that was to set America free. If I am writing a poem, no one will endorse it.
What after all, is a poem? Lines of a certain length, language of a certain intensity? I have not mastered Latin or Greek. I do not even think that I have fully mastered English, mastery over which I want, sometimes, nothing any more, wanting to own nothing, owning nothing, not even my own vast distances, my un-encountered strength. The mother holding her child against her breast, the mother childless now, is not present in my poem; the girl aboard the ship in a language I do not speak cannot be present; men throwing their bodies overboard rather than living the life of a slave; men dancing to a whip to keep up their physique: image now of what? What was it that the human world offered in its own image? What unendurable pain? What fortitude and tenacity. The girl, moving through the streets of Boston over which I sometimes walk, in her own life. By thirty-one she was dead in a poor house. Her body dumped into a common grave. And her third and only remaining child, whose name I also do not know, survived her for a few hours. *** I grew up in a family without religion. The closest thing we had to religion was poetry, which my father wrote. Poetry, he told us, was a place of praise. Becoming a poet was something that I resisted, but I found myself drawn to it nevertheless. In poems, there seemed to be a space not just for the visible, but also for the invisible, and a way not only to use language to point, but also to point beyond the ordinary world. By the time I wrote â€œImmortality,â€? I had been writing for a long time and was feeling the limitations of poetry. Wheatley was the first African American woman and first African American slave to publish a book of poems. Her poems are widely anthologized and taught, and the tone in which they are taught and in which her life is talked about is ANCHOR
“...I meant to convey my skepticism about the ways in which we sometimes talk about the immortality of poetry—as if a poem could make up in some way for the suffering of a lived life, as if the flesh and blood mortality of the author did not really count.” usually triumphant. Her life, however, was full of incredible challenges and pain. I was interested in the way her poetry, and the words around her poetry, hardly seemed to touch that pain. I felt acutely aware of the ways in which language—the human mind—often shied away from the most difficult parts of experience.
self in a debtors’ prison. Wheatley tried to publish a second book of poems, but no one would publish it. Her health weakened. By the time she was thirty, she was living in a squalid poor house, pregnant with her third child. She died soon after giving birth, and her baby died soon after her. Both mother and child were buried in an unmarked grave.
Wheatley was born in 1753 in what is now Senegal, where in the eighteenth century people practiced both Islam and the older religion of the Jola people that saw God in the natural phenomena of rain, sky, and sun. At the age of seven she was kidnapped into slavery.
In titling my poem “Immortality,” I meant to convey my skepticism about the ways in which we sometimes talk about the immortality of poetry—as if a poem could make up in some way for the suffering of a lived life, as if the flesh and blood mortality of the author did not really count.
After making the brutal middle passage, she arrived in Boston Harbor with nothing but a dirty blanket around her. At the age of seven, she had already lost her mother, her family, her name, her home, her homeland, her language, her identity, her freedom.
Most accounts of Wheatley’s life edit her suffering out. The 2007 seventh edition and the current online edition of The Norton Anthology of American Literature, widely taken as the most authoritative, canonical source for American Literature in the United States, gives a biography of Wheatley’s life that is so bowdlerized it is shocking. Reading the biography one might not know that Wheatley was a slave; one might have no idea of the middle passage; one might think that the Wheatleys, not Phillis, were the true heroes of this story; one might think that all that mattered in her life were the poems she wrote. I quote the biography in full to show how much is left out of it:
She was bought by the wealthy John Wheatley. She learned English quickly and soon started to learn how to read on her own. When her owners saw this, they started to teach her explicitly. Soon she was reading and writing in Latin and Greek. By the time she was twelve, she was writing complex poetry. She put together a book of poems and tried to publish it in America, where she was met with resistance, so the Wheatleys took her to England, where she published her book. The beautifully illustrated children’s book that my husband bought for our daughter about Wheatley tells this part of the poet’s life and no more. If there is an upward trajectory after her arrival in Boston (most stories take that as the starting point, though, of course, it was not), the story does not continue to rise triumphantly. At the death of her masters, Wheatley was set free, though she was not left material wealth. She married a free African American. In the first years of their marriage, the couple had a child who died in infancy, and then another child, who also died in infancy. Despite her husband’s ambitions, during the economic depression that the American Revolution brought on, he could not find work as a black man, and soon found him-
“Born in Africa, probably in present-day Senegal or Gambia, Phillis Wheatley was brought to Boston when she was around eight years old to be a companion for Susannah Wheatley, the wife of a wealthy tailor. Mrs. Wheatley, part of an enlightened group of Boston Christians who believed that slavery could not be tolerated in Christian households, recognized Phillis’s intelligence and saw that she was taught to read and write; Phillis studied the Bible, read Latin poets, and was influenced by Milton, Pope, and Gray. She became well known for her poem eulogizing the Reverend George Whitfield, and when she was nineteen or twenty she traveled to England, accompanied by the Wheatleys’ son, with a manuscript of her work. Her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) inaugurated the black American literary tradition. A group of eighteen prominent citizens of Boston, including the state governor and John Hancock, asserted that Wheatley had composed the poems, although ‘under the Disadvantage of serving as a Slave in a Family in this Town.’ A second STILL HARBOR
volume was proposed but never published, and most of the poems and letters have been lost.”1 The Norton biography makes it sound like it was a pleasant thing that Phillis Wheatley was brought to America, and says nothing about her trials—the death of her children, her poverty, and her own early death, nor that no one would publish her second book. The Poetry Foundation’s website, the web home of the well-funded Poetry Magazine, provides a much longer and more accurate account of Wheatley’s life, but it, too, seems unable to imagine the true experiences behind Wheatley’s life. Here are the opening two sentences: “Although she was an African slave, Phillis Wheatley was one of the best-known poets in pre-nineteenth-century America. Pampered in the household of prominent Boston commercialist John Wheatley, lionized in New England and England, with presses in both places publishing her poems, and paraded before the new republic’s political leadership and the old empire’s aristocracy, Wheatley was the abolitionists’ illustrative testimony that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual.”2 Can slavery be an “although”? Was she really “pampered”? The phrase “abolitionsts’ illustrative testimony that blacks could be both artistic and intellectual,” suggests not only the ways in which she was used in the past, but also the ways in which she is still being used. I felt Phillis Wheatley was invisible behind her own poems. *** However, while I was aware of the ways in which others used Wheatley for their own ends, I was also aware that I was doing something similar myself. I myself was using Wheatley and the sideways powers of language to explore and communicate obliquely my own anger, my own suffering, my own limitations. For I believe that all writers, even when writing about someone else, are also, at least in part, writing about themselves, and about their own connection to what it means to be human. In the period I wrote the poem, I was confronting for the first time my response to having been sexually assaulted as a young child. As a child, I had no language or context to carry the painful, taboo experience consciously, so I forgot it. But if I did not have conscious language memories for the experience, nevertheless, the experience lived ANCHOR
on in me through the cells of my body, which stored the impressions of horror and confusion and fear during the assault. Slowly, I was bringing those painful experiences up and feeling them in ways I never could feel them before. And I was looking at other people’s painful experiences, the heavy weight that is present, if not always talked about, in so much of our history. At times I felt I could imagine the pain of the young Phillis, cold and alone on the boat in Boston Harbor. At times I felt that even trying to imagine her pain was presumptuous of me. At times I felt that trying to imagine her pain was an act of defiance. I was acutely aware when I wrote the poem of the ways in which we, as individuals and as a culture, are unable to look at certain kinds of suffering—we cover it up, we deny it, we turn the other way. *** I was aware, too, of the ways in which Phillis Wheatley’s suffering was not unique to her. The violence she experienced, her personal losses, were part of a larger system of oppression and injustice stemming from the objectification of other people that continues in various forms to this day, just as my experience of being assaulted as a young child was a personal experience and also an experience that was part of a larger cultural climate in which abuses of sexuality and power have similar structural roots. But understanding these causes, from which so many still turn away, is not in itself enough. Spiritual teachers often tell us we should find meaning in our experiences. Our painful experiences have something to teach us; they help us grow. I did not fully trust this advice. Did people really need to endure being stolen into slavery in order to “grow”? The advice felt patronizing and blind to the real injustices and relentless suffering that so many people around the world and throughout history experience. Spiritual teachers also often tell us that we should be grateful for our lives. I did not fully trust this advice either: was I really supposed to be grateful to the person who assaulted me? I wasn’t grateful. I was angry. Wheatley’s life was a kind of spiritual puzzle to me. Here was an amazingly talented, remarkably brave young woman who had endured incredible challenges. How had she done it?
“Wheatley’s life was a kind of spiritual puzzle to me. Here was an amazingly talented, remarkably brave young woman who had endured incredible challenges. How had she done it?” And how had she made sense of her own life? I wanted to know because I was myself angry and confused. But instead of solving the puzzle, the answers I found only deepened the puzzle for me. Wheatley turned to God. In perhaps her most famous poem, written when she was quite young, Wheatley tells a redemptive story about her life; she gives thanks, and she praises God. On Being Brought from Africa to America by Phillis Wheatley
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land, Taught my benighted soul to understand That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too: Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. Some view our sable race with scornful eye, “Their colour is a diabolic die.” Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train. The poem gives thanks for being stolen into slavery, because, it says, it allowed her “benighted soul” to encounter “God,” and, through God, “redemption” and salvation. Although some people, the poem goes on to say, do not believe that black people can find redemption, Wheatley asserts that black people, too, are part of God’s kingdom and the “angelic train.” The poem certainly made me uncomfortable on many levels. If Wheatley was beloved by abolitionists, she was, understandably, less loved by twentieth-century civil rights leaders and poets. Did she really think it was a “mercy” that she was stolen into slavery? Was it perhaps too painful to process her early childhood and what she had left behind in Africa? When writing my poem, I was very much influenced by the Swiss psychologist Alice Miller who asks us to look at the ways in which we are often blind to the experiences and needs of children. In her book Thou Shall Not Be Aware, Miller shows the ways in which this blindness has deep cultural roots in a society in which we are taught not to question an authoritarian system, whether of our parents or of a patriarchal God.
Wheatley’s turn to the God of her slave owners and the racist language of her own poem, even as she tries to combat racism, reinforced for me the ways in which our imaginations are culturally limited. Were we seeing in Wheatley not just an individual story, but also an expression of cultural genocide that Europeans created around the globe, most painfully in the Americas with the natives and the slaves stolen from their homelands? William James famously said that religion begins with a cry for help. And yet, what happens when the help that comes back is itself limited? I grappled with bondage and a struggle for freedom that might, or might not, come. *** When I was writing the poem, I told a friend about it. Isn’t Wheatley’s life terribly tragic, I had said, and isn’t it ridiculous that she THANKS God? My friend, who had had a very painful childhood, surprised me with her answer: “Maybe not.” At the time I didn’t quite know what to make of my friend’s response. I knew she had a deep spiritual practice, but was that practice blinding her to Wheatley’s story? Did faith in some benevolent God or spiritual abundance and rightness prevent one from hearing the pain of Wheatley’s story because one wanted to believe something else about the world? Or was there something else next to all the suffering? Was my own imagination blind to something important? *** I wrote many other poems about many other people’s suffering. I talked to other people. But I kept on coming back to Phillis Wheatley’s story as a kind of touchstone. I believed that there was something more. I remembered my friend’s answer, and I remembered the look of radiance and peace on her face. I found that when I fought Wheatley’s story, I felt anger and this anger made my body contract. I was resisting reality. But when I felt sad about her story, instead of contracting, my body relaxed. My sadness did not condone the STILL HARBOR
terrible things that had happened, but in not fighting reality, I felt more open. I experienced something similar around my own story. My healing came not through my head, but through my heart and through my body. Gradually, I allowed myself to remember and feel physically what I had not been able to feel before. Slowly, I came to acceptance. I cried a lot. What had seemed at first unbearable, seemed more bearable. And from this position, I felt more able not only to heal myself but also to help others. Tears have been shown to be biologically healing. Thich Nhat Hanh says, “the tears I shed yesterday have become rain.” And rain is necessary for any garden. If I went to Wheatley’s story first as a kind of puzzle about the limitations of spirituality and social justice, what I found instead is what I believe lies at the root of both. The religious scholar Karen Armstrong teaches us that at the foundation of all world religions is compassion. Compassion is also, I believe, at the root of social justice. My anger could not accept things as they were. But compassion is a little different; it aspires towards change and towards love and understanding, but it accepts it if change does not happen. At its best, it is large enough to hold whatever comes, with love. And from this position, I think we are better able actually to help people, not to get caught up in our own frustrations.
I do not know what enormous spiritual power Wheatley had access to; perhaps she felt held even in her worst adult crises, even, perhaps, in her moments of despair. How much did it really matter what words Wheatley used to describe her God? What if the word God of the white slave owners that Wheatley found within her own heart was really not very different from the sun god that so many people in her West African homeland worshipped and that, perhaps, she had worshipped as a child? Despite the different language that we use, despite the limitations of our cultural imaginations, there exists a vast limitless realm of being, an energy within and all around us all. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. That Wheatley’s children were born and lived only a few months or a few hours instead of many decades—does this make their lives less precious, less miraculous? We are all, always, passing out from and back into silence, or, as Thich Nhat Hanh, who I now take as my spiritual teacher, says, there is no birth, no death, no coming, no going. What we know of Phillis Wheatley lives on because of the words she put on paper. She came out of silence and went back into it. She was impermanent. And perhaps, she was, like all of us, also, immortal. For a moment, things come together, though I am aware that these answers, also, can fall apart. If I started the poem questioning the powers of poetry, it was also the powers of poetry that allowed me to stay on my journey, with its many ups and downs.
*** It is now several years since I wrote my poem. I see my poem as only one piece of a journey, a snapshot of myself, engaged with the world and with language, and part of a larger process that extends beyond the finished product of the poem. Now I think that maybe my friend was right—who knows what strength and power Wheatley found in religion? Wheatley remained religious throughout her life. As I was able to look at my own pain, accept it for what it was, I saw not just vulnerability within myself, but also strength, and a real spiritual power that seemed to have been holding me all along. Looking at my vulnerability led me down my own spiritual path. ANCHOR
Perhaps I, too, turn to poetry for praise. I turn away from language, then turn back to it, turn away and back again. Who was Phillis Wheatley? What is a poem? I do not know. But I hope to be able to hold a place for not knowing, for the namelessness of suffering, grace and joy, and for the rich space of the heart that allows us to turn over, again and again, what it means to be human. § “Phillis Wheatley (c. 1753-1784).” Norton Anthology of American Literature, 7th Edition. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2007. Web. 14 May 2014. www.wwnorton.com. 1
“Phillis Wheatley.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2014. Web. 14 May 2014. www.poetryfoundation.org. 2
FREEDOM by Rev. Julie Barnes, LMHC
Mystery at work in me: busy and fruitful. Shovels and John Deeres moving piles of earth around my inner landscape. The map no longer matches the terrain. No cataclysm this time—no Arctic winter, Pompeii explosions, or flood to goad us two by two to safety. My inner ants have been at it so long, dutifully affectionately lugging sand grains. Covert Project Freedom—they didn’t ask my permission but worked under cover of night like brownies, unseen but longed for. How I have hungered for freedom this wide and deep! Smells like 2nd Beach on a March Sunday morning when only nuts with dogs are out walking and people, pious as I, are usually in church in town. Dogless, I undertake my sacred walk. I fight the urge to strip off my cowgrrl boots and let the water’s frost claim my toes, giving myself to waves polishing stones. I sing to myself with boots on. I watch the plovers chase near the restricted area where they’ll nest awfully soon. I tuck my square little hands into jeans pockets and savor the warmth of my own body. I can feel Spring coming in the dampness, the softening around me. Spring, the lover I wait for all year, with her audacious bloom.
girl tumbling with dandelion fluff in her hair who won’t stop playing; the adolescent vixen who toys, smolders, and pounces with hungriest mouth; the crone who cradles her tea, croons to her cats, and watches the moon through an upstairs window with old, wordless love. There is great freedom in giving oneself fully, demanding nothing in return. The power in emptiness, dusted, mopped, well-tended space becomes a garden of light and silence. That un-peopled beach, that clean slate kitchen. A receptive dancefloor. A sitting corner to write. A spot friends bring culinary offerings to sit down billowing their talk and touch. I am quietly in love with the world, and it’s getting harder to hide. In love with a specific form of Spirit that lives in a glorious body I will one day know by heart. She is not the catalyst for joy, but a natural outcropping of it. Divine light made human, like we each are.
“There is great freedom in giving oneself fully, demanding nothing in return. The power in emptiness, dusted, mopped, well-tended space becomes a garden of light and silence.”
This freedom is about space, not taking up space but softening into it, a half-lit stage with an audience of friends ringing it. Watch them with blessing and loving indifference. It’s the space of a clean well-stocked kitchen, oil soap scent lingering on floor boards, lavender on counters, tools washed and ready for use. There’s potential and room for creation.
It’s the words you have waited years for finally said back to you, magnificent and different than expected. “I love you,” she said and meant it utterly, “You have my permission for everything.” Perhaps it is possible to belong fully to oneself and also to another. It’s the difference between claiming and possession. When you are whole, when you keep God close, it is easier to let others be, not because you don’t need them but because you fervently need them to be wholly themselves. These things always fold back in on paradox.
I’m not resisting anymore, my foolish heart unlocked. I am needy of nothing and eager for every bite of living I can swallow after tasting. I am no longer saying to God “why” or “later” or “not this.” I am no longer dissecting other people’s lives with insect eyes and finding my own hands lacking. My empty hands, palms up on knees, accompany the breath as it settles and deepens. They are available to hold whatever’s close and calling for touch. They catch raindrops, wipe the crust from the old cat’s eye, and trace a lover’s beard with affection. They are poised and capable to live it all without refusal. They are soft-fingered, well-padded palms, crisp clipped nails pink with health, warm with blood, ringed with memory one band for each, God’s tools and my joy. I could die for the sweetness of this fully-engaged freedom. §
In becoming the queen of gently wiping my own tears and rocking myself to sleep with a tenderness so silken and abiding it almost shames me, I unite. I am the snarly little
THERE IS A LOT OF MONEY IN THE LAKE by Kirby Erlandson
There is a lot of money in the lake. Several fishermen in Muhuru Bay, Kenya—a small fishing village on Lake Victoria—imparted these words to me as though it was an old proverb, expressing a sense of reverent fascination for the great lake while at the same time hinting at its disappointments, and even its dangers.
education. Hoping to better understand the community I was living in, I began asking friends, colleagues, and acquaintances about their lives in Muhuru Bay and recording their answers. Casual inquiries grew into a large collection of stories and photographs that were eventually translated into the works displayed here.
Lake Victoria yields more than more than 6 billion KSH (nearly 70 million USD) per year—that’s 165,000 metric tons of fish. Despite the wealth dredged up from Lake Victoria’s depths by countless fishermen each morning, residents of many fishing communities like Muhuru Bay still rally against devastating poverty and malnutrition on a daily basis. Young boys may drop out of school and enter into fishing to support their families, only to earn a marginal cut compared to the international distribution companies who run the industry. With poverty and poor access to education, it is not uncommon for relationships to take on a transactional nature—young girls finding older boyfriends to pay their school fees or widows trading sex for fish that they can then sell at the market. Girls can get pregnant and leave school as young as 12, and rates of HIV/AIDS infection in fishing communities like Muhuru Bay are among the steepest in Kenya, at an estimated 40%. Some women face violence for asking their husbands to get an HIV test or to use a condom.
While studying the intersection of the arts and human rights in college, I was taught how art has historically been utilized as a way to “speak truth to power” in movements for social change. Following this framework, I wondered, who or what is ultimately responsible for such poverty and injustice? Who has the power to either deepen or lessen these inequalities? This inquiry led me to immerse myself in the stories of the community members I met, which in turn shifted my questions slightly. In the art and expression that follows, I ask you to consider: What truth can we find in someone’s story? And when we speak truth to power, to whom or what should we be speaking?
I was in Muhuru Bay in the summer of 2009, working with a non-governmental organization focused on girls’ ANCHOR
For me, some of the most salient, commanding examples of true power I’ve been able to identify lie within people like Judith, Fred, Mary, Agent, Emily, and Queen. These people I met in Muhuru Bay taught me about the human spirit’s enormous recuperative capacity, and about finding a path of resilience, courage, and action in the face of hardship and suffering. I carry these lessons, and the requisite gratitude, with me always.
“To be a girl in Muhuru is... difficult.” EMILY “My father was the first one to come, then my mother. My father came for fishing. When he made one net for catching fish, then my mother also came so that they would work together. She doesn’t go to the lake, but she takes omena from the boat, and then she sells. I joined Rabwao in [grade 10], I was in the top position. But that gave me a lot of quarrels with all the boys. They were used to girls getting the lowest spots. And now they were saying there was a teacher that was adding me some marks. They were saying that I had a relationship with him. Now, you see I was being discouraged. They could start laughing at you and even say some filthy words towards you. They could even tell you, ‘do you really think you will make it to university?’ To be a girl in Muhuru is so much difficult. When it reached December I became pregnant, and I just stayed. And when it became July last year, I gave birth. I had finished secondary by then. When it reached April this year, I applied to teaching college, and I am waiting for the calling letter. It is very hard to find jobs here. The only job you can get is just teaching in the private schools here. And you will only get 2000 KSH (23 USD) a month. Some are even 1200 (14 USD). That is how it is. If they pay 2000 that is great. It is very, very difficult. No jobs for learned people.”
“I applied to teaching college, and I am waiting for the calling letter.”
FRED “Me, I am just a fisherman. Every day when I wake up in the morning and I make sure that I come into the beach to prepare for fishing. This is usually at about 5:00 AM. I collect all my tools that I use, and I come to the beach. There is a lot of work there. If there is a very little catch, then we can work very fast. If there is a large catch, then we work slowly by slow. Me, I am fishing on my own boat. I get a crew and make a very good use of it.
“I was born in a poor family. That is what I know.”
I was born in a poor family. That is what I know. When I was growing up, I wished to be a doctor, in fact, but, of course, I did not reach. We lacked clothing. You see, we could not even eat. When I was in [grade 11], my mother died. There was no money in the family. There was nothing for me to go further with my studies, so I left school at that point. I trained to become a fisherman, and now, I am still a fisherman. I was trying to make my brothers and sisters get what they can eat. There is my sister is now in [10th grade], and I’m trying to pay for it. I’ve tried, and I think I’ve become successful. I wish her success, and I think she will finish her school. She will be a doctor or a lecturer at a university. I have a baby girl. God can try to make her so good in school. I think she could become a lawyer. And I think, if not a lawyer, then a doctor. When I feel difficult in my life, I pray to God. So, for me, myself, I like God. I have a lot of hopes for my future.”
“I have a baby girl... I think she could become a lawyer.”
“The women, they have to use that prostitution as a way of getting money.”
AGENT “To save fuel, I come to Migingo and stay and fish. Another boat will come and pick up fish and take to the mainlands. Fishing is better in the deep water. In the deep water, you can catch Nile Perch. But mostly I stay at Muhuru, I don’t stay in Migingo. Migingo is just a place I do business. The land isn’t safe. We only have only one toilet on the whole island. There are some women at Migingo who help us with cooking, but there are others who come there—they are prostitutes, most of them. The women, they have to use that prostitution as a way of getting money. If you have not reached a certain age, your parents will not allow you to come to Migingo. The fishermen, they get the fish, they sell it, they get a lot of money. They drink all the night, they dance, they buy the girls things. Some people sell condoms, but few use them.”
“The land isn’t safe.”
“Eight months ago, my husband died, so I support my children myself. I like to have a business... I sell beans, green grams, groundnuts, bananas from Kisii, butter...” JUDITH “My name is Judith. I have five children: two boys and three girls. I finished primary school up to class eight, and then I married. Eight months ago, my husband died, so I support my children myself. I like to have a business. Without business, I can’t get food for my children. My last born son is Gideon. He is just seven months. He comes to the market with me every day. My husband’s mother taught me how to run business in the market. I sell beans, green grams, groundnuts, bananas from Kisii, butter from a factory in Nairobi, and rice from Tanzania—it’s the sweetest. I can get 100-250 KSH profit from a bucket of butter, but it takes weeks to sell. Business is not always good. It can be up and down... I chose the rice, beans, and nut market because it is much easier to store when business is slow. Produce goes bad if not sold fast. I like having business more than relaxing at home. I want to make a profit.”
“...when I make money for myself, I know how to use it and how to control it.”
“When I was still young, I went up to grade five, then my mother passed away. After my mother passed away in class five, I continued in schooling to grade eight. My father also passed away when I was in grade eight. I wanted to study up to secondary. But because my parents had passed away, I was not able to make it to secondary school. But I wanted to. I had that goal. But because now I had nowhere to go—no one to stay with—I decided to get married, maybe to have a place to stay. If I could have gone to school, I would not be here where I am right now. I would not have been married at an early age. I could have gotten training to be a nurse. My dream when I was in class eight was to be a nurse. I had two children, but my firstborn child has died. My firstborn child died of Malaria. He was vomiting and had diarrhea. He died in May of this year. He was just one year old when he died. I would like to have more children. My husband keeps most of the amount he is getting from the lake. After my husband gets money from the lake, he removes money for food. The rest is for the other women. If I demanded that my husband save money or demanded that he stay with me at night, he would beat me. If I demanded my rights, my husband would beat me. Your husband is beating you to the extent that you are saying—why was I born a girl? Now, I am selling fish and groundnuts to get money. I was very proud to start because I was able to sell and get a lot of money to buy some things for the children and home. It is important—money—to me because when I make money for myself, I know how to use it and how to control it. Women don’t fish because they can’t go deep into water to fish. They also don’t know how to control that boat, which the men use for fishing. But if there could be someone to train women on how to control that boat then they could fish. If women could fish, I would fish too.
QUEEN The following are my strengths. First, I am a disciplined girl. Also, I am wise enough to judge people. More so, I am good in class activities. Furthermore, I am a good footballer... I am also clever. I was proud of myself when I participated up to nationals in reciting a poem. And I was given some present by our former president Honorable Daniel Arup Moi. By then, I was seven years old. I like touring with my friends because as we tour we watch beautiful things such as flamingos. And lastly, I like making my body clean and pretty because if I make my body pretty, I appear smart.
“I was proud of myself when I participated up to national in reciting a poem.”
I was angry when I found my mum beaten up by thieves. Also, I was angry when I came from school but there was no lunch for me. I was angry when teacher caned me. Furthermore, I was sad when my grandmother died. Also, I was sad when I was chased away from school. In the future, I would like to do my exams and pass. Second, I would like to pass my KCPE [Kenya Certificate of Primary Education] with flying colours so I go to WISER school. If you are interested in supporting change makers in the community of Muhuru, you may purchase one of these paintings by visiting kerlandson.com (the full purchase amount will go directly to WISER, a non-profit improving educational opportunities for girls in Muhuru) or you may donate directly at wisergirls.org. § ANCHOR
WHO UNDERSTANDS ME BUT ME by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Who Understands Me but Me They turn the water off, so I live without water, they build walls higher, so I live without treetops, they paint the windows black, so I live without sunshine, they lock my cage, so I live without going anywhere, they take each last tear I have, I live without tears, they take my heart and rip it open, I live without heart, they take my life and crush it, so I live without a future, they say I am beastly and fiendish, so I have no friends, they stop up each hope, so I have no passage out of hell, they give me pain, so I live with pain, they give me hate, so I live with my hate, they have changed me, and I am not the same man, they give me no shower, so I live with my smell, they separate me from my brothers, so I live without brothers, who understands me when I say this is beautiful? who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms? I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand, I cannot make the heavens open or the earth tremble, I can live with myself, and I am amazed at myself, my love, my beauty, I am taken by my failures, astounded by my fears, I am stubborn and childish, in the midst of this wreckage of life they incurred, I practice being myself, and I have found parts of myself never dreamed of by me, they were goaded out from under rocks in my heart when the walls were built higher, when the water was turned off and the windows painted black. I followed these signs like an old tracker and followed the tracks deep into myself, followed the blood-spotted path, deeper into dangerous regions, and found so many parts of myself, who taught me water is not everything, and gave me new eyes to see through walls, and when they spoke, sunlight came out of their mouths, and I was laughing at me with them, we laughed like children and made pacts to always be loyal, who understands me when I say this is beautiful?
From Immigrants in Our Land and Selected Early Poems. Copyright © 1990 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. New Directions Publishing Corporation. Reprinted with the permission of the author. Note: The last line of the first stanza was corrected to read “who understands me when I say I have found other freedoms?”, and the first line of the second stanza was corrected to read “I cannot fly or make something appear in my hand,” on November 15, 2010.
COMPASSION AS A GUIDE FOR CARE FOR THE DYING by Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D.
Compassion in care of the dying involves: • • • • •
Listening with full attention Nonjudgmental acceptance of self and patient Emotional awareness of self and patient Self-regulation in the caregiving relationship Compassion for self and patient ***
“I’m up late admitting patients to the inpatient hospice unit. Just when I think I’m too old for these late nights without sleep, a person in all their rawness, vulnerability and pain lays before me and as my hands explore the deep wounds in her chest and my ears open to her words, my heart cracks open once again.... and, this night, a sweet 36 year-old woman with her wildly catastrophic breast cancer speaks of her acceptance and her hope for her children, and she speaks with such authenticity and authority. And her acceptance comes to me as the deepest humility a person can experience and then again, once again, I remember why I stay up these late nights and put myself in the company of the dying.” - Gary Pasternak, M.D. Associate Faculty, Being with Dying *** These are the words of a palliative care physician who was trained in Upaya’s professional training program in compassionate end-of-life care. Dr. Pasternak joined our faculty and is now the director of a hospice in Northern California. Dr. Pasternak’s words reflect the inner qualities that make for a great physician. He exemplifies what we endeavor to cultivate in clinicians: this heart of compassion, deep humility, courage, and respect. As Dr. Pasternak was an early trainee in our Being With Dying clinician training program, he taught us much about what will serve doctors and nurses who are faced daily with patient, family, and institutional challenges. He, like so many others in our program, also communicated what our core faculty knew: this work with dying people touches the deepest values that we have as human beings and can lead us back to ourselves in the right circumstances. I had long known this because this world of caregiving had first opened for me in the process of my grandmother’s tragic illness and death. I also knew this from my anthropological work in Africa and the Americas. As an anthropologist and student of religion, I had looked deeply into the world’s religions, exploring teachings related to compasANCHOR
sion, dying, and death that could serve those who were facing death in the contemporary world and also those caring for the dying. In addition, I was fortunate to have received teachings and engaged in practices from the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism. I learned that all three schools of Buddhism could contribute greatly to the understanding of how to train clinicians and caregivers in compassionate care of the aged, the dying, and those suffering from catastrophic illness. I also learned that other cultures often care for their dying in ways that are more compassionate and realistic than ours here in the United States. I began my direct work with compassionate care of the dying in 1970 as a medical anthropologist at the University of Miami School of Medicine’s Dade County Hospital in Miami, Florida. While working in this big county hospital, I saw that the most marginalized group of people in the hospital system were those who were dying. As someone involved with curriculum development at the medical school, I endeavored to introduce the concept of compassionate care of the dying into the institution’s curriculum, recognizing the stress experienced by clinicians and dying people in relating to existential and psycho-spiritual issues of mortality. In 1972, I collaborated with psychiatrist Stanislav Grof in a project using LSD as an adjunct to psychotherapy under the auspice of the National Institute of Mental Health. The Buddhist perspective on impermanence was profoundly relevant to those facing death; the Buddhist vision of compassion became a base note in our work in this contemporary rite of passage. Over the years, I learned of a number of programs using different teaching methods to aid healthcare professionals in the knowledge and skills to care for dying people. Despite the development of these curricula, which are often behaviorally based, healthcare professionals frequently report a lack of skills in psycho-social and spiritual care of dying people and report suffering from “compassion deficit.” They also report difficulties in caring for the dying with significant levels of pathological altruism, vital exhaustion, secondary trauma, moral distress, unresolved grief, and other psycho-social and existential ills. In addition, there are increasing reports of “patient dissatisfaction” and patients reporting that clinicians lack empathy and compassion. Over the decades of working in the field and hearing these reports, I have identified six “edge states” or chal-
lenges that clinicians can be subject to. Each of these conditions has within it positive potentials. At the same time, they can be pernicious experiences and can cause clinicians to leave medicine and nursing. These states are: 1) pathological altruism—an excess of altruism that mentally or physically harms the experiencer; 2) burnout or vital exhaustion—cumulative work demands and stress; 3) secondary trauma—dysfunction that arises from prolonged exposure to the suffering of others; 4) moral distress— moral conflicts when the clinician knows what is right to do but cannot do it; 5) horizontal and vertical hostility— behaviors of disrespect and bullying among members of a peer group or disrespect of those deemed lower in “rank”; 6) structural violence—violence in the system that marginalizes or harms individuals or groups. To address these complex concerns and the profound need for compassion in caring for the dying, in 1996 I created a curriculum to train professional caregivers in compassionate care of the dying: “Being With Dying: Professional Training Program in Compassionate End-of-Life Care” (BWD). In addition, I have developed a typology for compassion, a compassion model, and a compassion intervention. In exploring with professional caregivers what they feel is important in a compassion-based interaction with their patients, a number of features have been articulated, in addition to the model. These aspects are outlined by educator Mark Greenberg in relation to teachers in engendering mindfulness and compassion in the classroom. They translate well for clinicians in fostering Contemplative Mindful Compassion-Based care (CMC): Listening with full attention: • Correctly discerning patient’s behavioral cues • Accurately perceiving patient’s verbal communication • Reduced use and inﬂuence of cognitive constructions and expectations Story: I attended an elderly student, who had suffered a massive heart attack and was taken to the emergency room near our Zen center. Hooked up to IVs, in the hush of a private space in the ER, she began to realize that she might be near death. As technicians stirred around her, she settled down into a quiet, open, and fearless state. She had been a child in Berlin during World War II and had vowed then to face death openly and with dignity. Those of us who sat with her in the ER listened in a respectful way to her con-
cerns and also her courage. We could see the effect of her practice and her training. We also felt the ballast of our training in care of the dying as we sat with her through this crisis and gave our full and calm attention to her and to those who were attending her. A few years later, my student was diagnosed with a fast-growing cancer. She died six days after receiving the final diagnosis, and again her quiet presence and acceptance astounded those of us who cared for her. We sat with her, listened, sat in attentive and compassionate silence when she lost her words. When she was told that nothing more could be done to help her, she simply dipped below the horizon and let go into the deep trough of peace. She went quickly, gracefully, her equanimity standing her in good stead. All of us who attended her had been through the BWD training. We were able to accept the truth of her situation and, at the same time, have a kind of compassionate optimism that that was not about her survival but the quality of life that we observed in our dying patient. We had the training to listen and to support her in silence. Her death was characterized by profound peace. Nonjudgmental acceptance of self and patient: • Healthy balance between patient-oriented, clinicianoriented, and relationship-oriented goals • Sense of care-giving efﬁcacy • Appreciation of patient’s traits • Reduction in self-directed concerns • Fewer unrealistic expectations of patient Story: Issan founded the Hartford Street Zen Center and the Maitri AIDS Hospice in the gay district of San Francisco. He had not been diagnosed as HIV-positive himself, but he believed it was crucial to offer help to his brothers dying all around him. Issan was a Buddhist who was deeply intimate with compassion. Through Issan’s work with dying people, I saw how Buddhism could function in a practical way for a community in crisis—a community that flourishes with compassion. At the hospice I didn’t feel piety. The practice there had been energized by the dross of suffering, not consumed by it. Some years after the founding of the hospice, Issan was diagnosed with AIDS. We hoped he would live a long time, but as it turned out, he had only a few short years left inside him. As Issan’s health was declining, I came up from Southern California to visit him in the hospital. Although I have been at the bedside of many dying people, watching Issan die was not easy for me. He had been there for STILL HARBOR
“...I saw how Buddhism could function in a practical way for a community in crisis—a community that flourishes with compassion. At the hospice I didn’t feel piety. The practice there had been energized by the dross of suffering, not consumed by it.” so many. He was a good friend and a role model. His life taught us all what it meant to be a true human being, present for another in such a way that any sense of “other” disappeared. Sometimes that disappearing was in laughter; sometimes it was in silence. Sometimes he looked with his eyes right into the heart of the matter. Like so many others, I wanted my friend to continue to live. Thin and fragile, wrapped in a hospital gown, Issan was sitting up in bed in the late afternoon when I went to visit him maybe a month before he died. I sat on the side of his bed, and suddenly my face was wet with tears. Issan reached over to touch my hand. He looked at me and said, “It is not necessary.” Here the patient was not judging himself or me, nor in the end, did I judge him. I had profound appreciation for Issan’s courage and humor, wisdom and love. The feeling between us was not characterized by judgment but by respect and love, and by a deep sense of the reality of impermanence. Emotional awareness of self and patient: • Responsiveness to patient’s needs and emotions • Greater accuracy in responsibility attributions • Less dismissing of patient’s or other caregivers’ emotions • Less withdrawal/abandonment resulting from negative emotions (e.g., anger, disappointment, shame, grief) Story: The following is a letter from a physician, who was a participant in our professional training program for clinicians: “As with everything Steven did in his life, he went out fighting. By the last day, he required continuous oxygen. When his breathing became terribly labored (and long after he had become unresponsive), we turned off the oxygen. I fully expected him to pass in minutes. No, not Steven. Never the easy way out. He still labored, minutes turning into hours. Family and friends started reading poetry— Blake, Wordsworth—preparing for a night that seemed to have no end. At one point, I thought of co-meditation, but couldn’t imagine how I could do that. Too late now, I thought. Then, without any idea what I was doing, and with still no end in his agony in immediate sight, I began speaking into his ear, my forehead almost resting on his, my hand ANCHOR
slowly rubbing his chest in soft circles, as I whispered to him to relax, to slow the breath down, to be easy. Within minutes his breathing pattern slowed, the labored quality going. A few minutes later, when it had slowed even more, the end clearly near, I called someone else over to take my place by his side, and with her now whispering in his ear, he died quietly, peacefully. A long, hard labor over. The night complete. A man reborn into another world.” This good doctor had such resonance with his patient and such devotion. I know him well. His life was changed as a result of what he gave to his patient and what he learned from him. Self-regulation in the caregiving relationship: • Emotion regulation in the caregiving context • Caregiving in accordance with goals and values • Less over-reactive, ‘‘automatic’’ reactions or withdrawal • Less dependence on other’s emotions Story: I spent several years traveling back and forth to Seattle from Southern California to be with John and Kenny, both of whom had AIDS. John died first, and all our loving of him, all our holding of him, all the support offered to him, the listening, the presence, seemed to do little good. And yet, one doesn’t look for an outcome. At the end, when John was actively dying, he could not believe he was actually going to die. Eventually he developed dementia. John died a hard death. I learned that sometimes all we can do is just be present. We are powerless to change the tide of suffering, dying, and death. And we, as caregivers, have to take care of ourselves along the way. After his partner’s death, Kenny moved to a tiny room in a brownstone in the Bronx. Whenever I went to New York, I’d go to see him. Sitting by his bed, I would listen to his quiet request that I help him die. I could understand why Kenny wanted to take his life. It seemed to him that he had little to live for. He was alone most of the time in a tiny sweltering room in a desolate corner of New York with few visitors and little support. He had been abandoned by most of his friends. I knew from years in this work that
withdrawing from one’s patients is not an uncommon experience. I did not want to do this. I invited Kenny to move in with me, but he declined, saying he wanted to stay on the East Coast near his sister. In the end, I had very little to give Kenny except for presence. We meditated together, and we shared moments of deep peace. Then one evening Kenny said to me, “You know, it’s October now. In November, I’m going to my sister’s farm and will put myself on the earth and die.” And that is exactly what he did. He chose the time of his death, and he took his own life. He took it peacefully, close to what he loved the most—the land he had tended since he was a child. I heard from those who were with him that it took him a long time for him to die, but that he was right there through all of it. As a good friend and caregiver, I found it challenging to support his decision. And yet, it was necessary to support his wish and autonomy, and I had to regulate my response to his situation, including his choice to take his own life, in order to keep on showing up for him. Compassion for self and patient: • Affection in caregiver-patient and colleague relationships • More forgiving view of own caregiving efforts • Less compromised affect displayed in the caregiving relationship • Less self-blame when caregiving goals are not met Story: An older woman asked that we support her as she was dying of a rare neurological disorder. After some months, she disclosed that she did not want to continue living with her rapidly decreasing capacities and her increasing pain. Over many months, we gently and firmly tried to find ways to offer her greater love and support. But she was determined to end her life. She tried more than once to end her life but did not succeed. Each time she swallowed the pills, her partner would call 911 and a rescue team would arrive and resuscitate her. Her anger at these rescues went deep. She had been in a psychiatric institution as a young woman and felt profoundly angry that others were controlling her destiny. It was not a matter of love and reason being an intervention to end this cycle of misery. All the spiritual and practical issues meant nothing to her in the face of her history and her current suffering. Our team reluctantly told her that we could not sup-
port her suicide, although we loved and respected her. We were legally bound to “call for help.” She and her partner agreed to not inform us or anyone if she attempted suicide again, and in this way, they would let things take their course. Knowing these two women, I imagine this was a hard decision; nor was ours an easy one. It was a process of being realistic and blameless. One Wednesday morning, the phone rang. Our friend had attempted suicide. This time she was comatose and had entered a vegetative state. When her partner called me, she had been that way for four days. I immediately drove to her house to find her unconscious and completely chaotic; her breathing ragged; her body tossing about like flotsam in stormy waves. The hospice nurse and my assistant, who knew her well, asked that I spend some time alone with her. “She would want this,” they said. I sat down beside the bed and took her hands in mine. Her eyes were blank, her body twisting and sweating profusely. I began breathing with her, telling her that she was loved and that it was OK for her to let go. We breathed together, and gradually, almost imperceptibly, with me quietly saying “yes” on her out-breath, her breathing slowed and became lighter and lighter until, at last, she slipped away and was gone. Maybe this story illustrates what it means to do this work. Compassion is always the base, including compassion for one’s own limitations in the work. This is the essence of CMC care, the ability to offer equanimity, compassion, mindfulness, and information in a balanced way where there is understanding and appreciation all around. Here is another story that illustrates what we try to bring to those near death. Story: This is a short account of Matthew, who had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. When Matthew finally died of his cancer, he had already discussed his final wishes with his family and with me. This is a really important part of what we do as compassionate caregivers—we create an atmosphere of trust, courage, and compassion, where difficult subjects can be explored. In a family meeting with David, we had sat in council, and the question came up of how he wanted his body treated immediately after he died. I had shared with David and his family how we recommend that the body is cared for after death. He seemed to find this guidance helpful and made the request of his friends and family that this happen. Creating a situation of trust and ease in the midst of the drama around dying is really important. From this base, there can be greater balance and discernment—two features that are related to compassion. STILL HARBOR
I was not there the moment Matthew died. When I arrived to help twenty minutes after he had passed, I found a calm and very moving scene of loving care taking place. His partner was gently swabbing his mouth clean of mucus. His twin sister was holding his hand and thanking her brother for all she had learned from him. His closest friend and the hospice nurse, their arms around each other, softly prayed for him. No one was rushing around, lost in busyness and trying to avoid what had just happened. We were, in a very quiet and connected way, being with dying, and being with dying from a base of compassion. To support CMC care, clinicians and caregivers need to value well-being, insight, compassion, and self-respect; recognize challenges and stress; commit to physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and relational balance; and engage in strategies that support “best practices” with CMC care toward the dying, community, colleagues, and self, as a base. There are so many stories of why a CMC in the end-of-life care field is important. Here, I offer a final story to illustrate the how compassion forms a base for care of the dying:
We listened deeply to each other and explored the question of denial and how Mary’s refusal to accept the imminence of her death could on some level be a reflection of her insight into deathlessness. I shared with them that this was a possibility that might free them to accept Mary’s attitude of denial. Mary’s friends could not ignore their shared fears and frustrations once they were spoken aloud. When they heard one another, they shifted to a position of compassion for themselves as well as to a greater understanding of their friend’s perspective on dying. We then set out to do the most practical thing, which was to make a schedule.
“I did not know then, and now years later, I still cannot draw a conclusion. I only knew that my own practice and training had given me the grounding and openness to hold this woman’s life and death with respect and awe.”
Story: When Mary, who had lymphoma, came to see me, I was moved by her appearance. Because of chemotherapy, she had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes. Flaring from her neck were huge tumors. Although her friends had told me Mary was in denial, I found her denial curiously radiant. In our first interview, she leaned toward me and said, “I am not going to die.” At that instant, I felt she spoke the truth. When we cut through the illusion of ourselves as solid and separate entities, we may well come to the conclusion that nobody dies. One day, Mary’s network of friends— about twenty-five women in all—came together. We sat in council, and I asked the simple question, “What are you feeling?” They responded with suffering and frustration. I could not blame this circle of good-hearted women. Something was definitely not working for them. For one thing, it bothered them all that Mary was “in denial.” On another level, they had not quite gotten themselves organized, they felt demoralized, and their care for their friend was erratic. They seemed to be in a world apart from her, and at the ANCHOR
same time they loved her and wanted to do their best for her as she was dying.
Over the ensuing weeks, it seemed as though everything went much more smoothly. People showed up at Mary’s on time and worked with accepting her just as she was. I also was part of the schedule and had the joy of sitting with her several times a week. She and I listened to music, sat in silence, and occasionally talked about simple spiritual issues.
Mary stayed in “denial” up until the moment of her death when she died peacefully. Her last words were, “I am not dying.” It’s easy to consider denial as some kind of pathology. However, in being with dying, we simply do not know when it might be serving a positive or healing function. “The difficulty,” said philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “is to realize the groundlessness of our believing.” This is truly not knowing. Deep down inside, we are all aware that we are going to die. If we activate the spirit of hope or wisdom through denial, as Mary did, that is our own business. In some situations, it can be of great help and bring peace into our lives. In Mary’s case, perhaps what we were calling “denial” was her knowledge that some part of her would never die. I did not know then, and now years later, I still cannot draw a conclusion. I only knew that my own practice and training had given me the grounding and openness to hold this woman’s life and death with respect and awe. §
PLANS by Phil Garrity
A woman is tugging on my shirt. On her knees, she screams through bitter tears, “How can you believe in a God who allows this?” Her child has died, and she looks to me for answers. Nothing can fill the void—no condolence, no platitude, no explanation. I search for words, but there are none. Her child has died, and my faith is barely breathing. Then I awake from the dream. *** For years, the silence was deafening—an abyss I could never fill with words. So I covered it with action, with frantic attempts to patch the holes that God had left in the world. He was no Master Builder, no Grand Architect with a Plan. He was more of a senile grandfather; the kind who hands you a shoddy, half-broken gift, which you receive with a feeble smile and half-hearted “thank you,” knowing that you’ll probably throw it away and build for yourself what you had plainly asked for: a shiny, perfect world. I would help him back to his chair in the corner of my mind, telling him to stay there, to rest. I’d be back to visit him on Sundays, to sit with him quietly for an hour or so before leaving again. I had things to do, places to be. I had a mess to clean up that he was either unable or unwilling to do himself. And so I went, and God looked on.
They offered me a warm elixir to slowly cure me of my amnesia, to remember the wholeness that lay at the core of my fragmented self and world. They strengthened in me a courage to sit with those pieces, to let them build up and break down as they would, to no longer run from the storm. And so I stayed, and God stayed too.
I read, I wrote, I recited. I poured myself into studying the mechanics of poverty and disease, putting my sincere and unquestioning faith in science and medicine as the tools with which to finally fix the Big Machine. But the change I sought was not in these books. It was somewhere beyond this quiet classroom, out there in inner-city schools, in free clinics, under bridges. And so I went, and God looked on.
I taught, I bandaged, I fed them. I scattered myself between a host of community service projects, tidying the mess at the margins of poverty. But a quiet conviction that these gestures were not “enough” lingered. I needed to think bigger and reach higher if I were going to be the catalyst that would fix it all. So while my hands remained
busy with the work, my mind slowly began to disengage, drifting from the homeless woman in front of me to the line of faceless vagrants stretching down the street to the countless millions in lands far away. The real need was somewhere beyond this small corner of the world, out there in earthquake-ravaged towns, in high mountain villages, in sick and coughing slums. College ended, and so I went, and God looked on. I sheltered, I bathed, I clothed them. I buried myself in humanitarian relief efforts, living and working in the heart of the mess. And in my feverish haste of doing good, I lost myself. The lines dividing good and bad, right and wrong began to break. I had used those lines as walls to push against, to secure my footing and direct my blows. But now I was drowning in the gray wasteland of an undivided world, bailing water from a sinking ship whose holes I could not mend. The brokenness and confusion beyond me soon exposed the cracks within. Seismic anxiety and selfdoubt shook the ground of my being, eroding my dreams of becoming a doctor for the poor. The anger and hostility I had sought to cleanse from the world welled up from within me, flooding my mind with self-loathing and fear despite my frantic bailing. Exhausted and without relief, I drifted into the sea.
And then God whispered, “Rest.” He appeared less decrepit, younger somehow. He spoke without words, gently awakening in me a quiet intention harbored deep in the silent water below—a desire to accept myself, even those broken parts of heart and mind that were upending my plans for who I needed to be, for what I needed to do. He led me to spiritual homes, to writers and thinkers in whose words I found refuge from the storm. They offered me a warm elixir to slowly cure me of my amnesia, to remember the wholeness that lay at the core of my fragmented self and world. They strengthened in me a courage to sit with those pieces, to let them build up and break down as they would, to no longer run from the storm. And so I stayed, and God stayed too. STILL HARBOR
I paused, I listened, I reflected. The intention grew as the waters calmed and dry land emerged from the fog. I spoke into the silence with trepidation, “How do we say ‘Yes’ to Life when there is so much to say ‘no’ to?” He pointed to a hospice class—a room of elders who shared stories of loss, sickness, and death. Looking into their faces, I touched a kind of pain and hope I had never felt before, not in all my days of searching the dark corners of the world. For now it was no longer about fixing, but about being with the other—setting aside my tools and together navigating the mystery of suffering. My interest in the mechanics of disease had faded, replaced with a deeper fascination with the experience of illness. So when medical school beckoned me, I withdrew my acceptance with days to spare, the last vestiges of my plan gently collapsing into the sand. I ventured out onto the open tundra of a life stripped bare of certainty yet pregnant with knowing. And so I went, and God went too. Weeks later, I sat in an empty exam room; an aching knee had prompted me to visit my doctor. He entered the room, and I waited for a simple explanation, but he had none. “You have bone cancer,” he said, leaving me in the silence. I looked over to God, who was youthful, almost my age. He held my hand, his eyes gently weeping as tears fell from mine. “Come,” he said. “Walk with me.” He gave me the choice, and I gave him the answer, deciding to say “Yes” to Life, to follow Love. And so God went, and I went too. The year ahead of chemotherapy and surgery was our journey to heal the divides, to continue renewing the intention to accept those fragmented parts of myself with patient, quiet love. My hair would fall out, my body would weaken, and I would become a child again. He bathed me, he fed me, he healed me, again and again.
“I touched a kind of pain and hope I had never felt before, not in all my days of searching the dark corners of the world. For now it was no longer about fixing, but about being with the other—setting aside my tools and together navigating the mystery of suffering.”
*** Another woman is tugging on my shirt. I raise my downcast eyes to meet hers, soft and glistening. Her son has died, but she does not look for answers. She holds the silence tenderly before whispering to me, “He is with God now, the one who holds us all in his loving embrace.” She strokes my feeble faith like she would a sick child. I do not awake because this is not a dream, but a memory. § .
A GLOBAL COLLABORATION Art that transcends in public places by Elissa Melaragno
A still image from TOUCHSTONE #26: Prisoner of Time
Linda DeHart Partner, Colors In Motion Principal of DeHartArt, Linda DeHart creates art that uses the power of color and motion to carry the viewer beyond the object of the art to a place of inner transformation. Lindaâ€™s mastery of color is expressed through digital art, watercolors, appliquĂŠ tapestries, paper sculptures, silk paintings, and more. Her portfolio encompasses original and commissioned art, which range from large-scale architectural settings to small-scale individual works. In 2009, Linda launched Colors In Motion at the British Consulate General in Boston. She is Creative Director/Visual Artist of the Colors In Motion creative team. She holds a BFA (1961) from the Rhode Island School of Design. Christopher Graefe Partner, Colors In Motion Christopher Graefe is the Dynamic Media Director at Colors In Motion and Director of Content Development at Sensory Interactive, Inc. His passion lies in digitally compositing beautiful, memorable experiences in collaboration with artists, dancers, poets, and musicians from all over the world. He brings two decades of experience and outstanding achievements in design and technical experience to multimedia projects, from large-scale immersive media installations to mobile interactive applications. He has received national recognition and publication for product design and research from Apple Computer, the Industrial Designers Society of America, the Association for Computing Machinery, International Design Magazine, and Businessweek.
Colors In Motion: Persona A reverent, serene, and unconditionally loving citizen of the world who speaks all languages and understands all cultures. Dedicated to bringing beauty and centered calm to our busy lives. One who is ever present, selfless, and uniquely seeking to engage us— to remind us of what truly unites us all, our humanity, and out likeness. *** Six years ago, Linda DeHart embarked on a path having little idea where it would lead. It emerged from a body of watercolor meditations that she painted over several years as a practice in being present in the moment. In her own words, “Initially, I produced a thousand paintings, which I began to see as components of larger works. From those paintings, three digital artists and I collaborated to create ‘sojourns’ of moving visual imagery synchronized with music. The inspiration was spontaneous. The collaboration arose from intuition. The result was a digital program of ten parts, The Human Journey, which brings comfort, inspiration, searching, joy, beauty, and peace to those who experience it.” Soon the vision expanded, inviting other art forms into the process: dance, sculpture, original musical compositions and soundscapes, voice, light, aurora borealis photography, poetry, and prose—imagination unbounded. The community of contributors expanded, inspired and united by a desire to offer beauty and centered calm in people’s busy lives. “Conscious that none of us has all that is needed,” Linda says, “we become equally aware that, together, we discover things beyond our imagining. Collaborating over short and long distances, we now have three years of monthly TOUCHSTONE works of art offered to the world to see and experience. Colors In Motion emerged as a multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary collaboration. Arising from a creative bond that our team shares toward a common goal for good, we find ourselves making contributions without attachment, working in relationship, going forward not knowing, giving more than we thought we would or could, experiencing Life, Energy, Passion, Interest, Pulse, and drawing inspiration from the process and strength from the accomplishment.” The very intention of Colors In Motion as an artistic collective is to offer people a deep level transformational experience of peace. It is the desire of the 35 artists with whom Colors In Motion has collaborated that the healing and meditative qualities, which infuse the work, feed and nourish the consciousness of the global community of change agents who work diligently towards the equality, nourishment, and good of all life. To experience these works of art in their full video formats, visit www.colorsinmotion.com
A still image from TOUCHSTONE #21: Expanding Horizons
TOUCHSTONE #31 February 2014 “the pond“
“Sound and visuals... sensitively and seamlessly combined...”
The musical composition of “the pond” is from Joshua Hummel’s forthcoming album inspired by the Chinese symbolism surrounding the lotus flower. The lotus flower’s symbolism derives from the purity and beauty of its blossoms, which arise from the muddy waters in which it grows. It is widely regarded as a symbol of divine birth, spiritual development, and creation itself. This musical exploration is made visible with carefully selected peaceful moments of Linda DeHart’s watercolor paintings, offering viewers a place of beauty and calm—a restorative Zen environment that can bring attention to one’s inner healing powers. Sound and visuals are sensitively and seamlessly combined by Christopher Graefe. *** Joshua Hummel, a composer, pianist, and Haiku poet, is the recipient of various composition awards including the prestigious Leonard Bernstein Award. His music has been performed in Carnegie Hall, throughout the United States and in Paris, Croatia, Perugia, Rome, London, and Moscow. As the composer of music and soundscapes for Colors in Motion, his music skillfully balances accessibility, artistic integrity, and innovation. Visit joshummel.com for more information.
A still image from TOUCHSTONE #31: the pond To experience this work of art in its full video form, visit www.colorsinmotion.com/Touchstone_V31.html
TOUCHSTONE #30 December 2013 “Walking in Beauty”
You are invited to walk in the beauty of this TOUCHSTONE, which blends the music of Niels Eje in a harmonious and loving balance with a stunning visual journey through Linda DeHart’s paintings. Digital compositor Christopher Graefe evokes new dimensions by relating Neils’ and Linda’s natural rhythms of sound and form, of separation and reunion, of peace and reminiscence.
“Linda’s work in color and light takes us beyond the painting to a place of inner transformation.”
Sourced from a watercolor painting over 12 feet long created at her Maine summer studio, Linda’s work in color and light takes us beyond the painting to a place of inner transformation. *** The music of “Walking In Beauty” features “Tranquil Moonlight” merged with the MusiCure classic piece “Butterfly Garden.” MusiCure, the work of Danish musician Niels Eje, is a specially composed evidence-based music created to have a calming and de-stressing effect and made in close collaboration with international researchers and healthcare professionals. Visit musicure.com.
A still image from TOUCHSTONE #30: Walking in Beauty To experience this work of art in its full video form, visit www.colorsinmotion.com/Touchstone_V30.html
TOUCHSTONE #8 August 2011 “Light Dances”
We invite you into the silence of Light Dances, to enter beauty with your eyes, to feel rhythm with your soul. In July, at the Noyes School of Rhythm in Portland, CT, Meg Brooker danced. Linda DeHart painted. Christopher Graefe filmed. Christopher then collaged the art forms through his creative mastery of digital compositing for this TOUCHSTONE.
“We invite you into the silence of Light Dances, to enter beauty with your eyes, to feel rhythm with your soul.”
Beauty is the fundamental nourishment of the human soul. In our modern existence, we too often lose connection with our source. We move to an ever-increasing rapid pulse, multitasking, accomplishing, focusing on the next moment, the next day, and beyond. ***
Meg Brooker, Artistic Director of Thel Dance Theatre/Austin, TX, danced as a member of Lori Belilove & Company/ Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation. She has performed, taught, and lectured about early modern dance work in Russia, Crimea, Italy, Costa Rica, and the United States, and teaches world dance at Texas State University.
A still image from TOUCHSTONE #08: Light Dances To experience this work of art in its full video form, visit www.colorsinmotion.com/Touchstone_V08.html
TOUCHSTONE #28 “Say Nothing”
“Sound healer Chinling Hsu, inhaling and exhaling, creates a setting for Sufi mystic Rumi’s transcendent poem...”
“Say Nothing” explores the luminosity of clouds, the warmth of the sun, the sounds of rhythmic breath—rhythms of life that inspire a sense of inner calm when we give ourselves time to experience them. Christopher Graefe mingles the sinuous subtleties of light and sound in this digital composition of peace and illumination, enhancing our space for contemplation, inviting us to a place of emptiness in order to “say nothing.” Sound healer Chinling Hsu, inhaling and exhaling, creates a setting for Sufi mystic Rumi’s transcendent poem, “Say Nothing,” translated and recited by Persian scholar Iraj Anvar. Reverend Beverly Dale delivers Iraj’s translated English counterpoint to Iraj’s recitation in Persion, his native tongue. As a vocalist and performer Beverly frequently weaves the inspiration of Sufi mysticism of the East into her ministry in the West. Rolling clouds and fog banks of the Pacific inspired Linda DeHart in crafting unique paper sculptures, which provide an ephemeral context. Fibers, mixed in waves of water and selectively captured on a wire screen, were shaped and molded as they gave up their moisture and the artwork emerged reflective, translucent, and light-filled.
A still image from TOUCHSTONE #28: Say Nothing To experience this work of art in its full video form, visit www.colorsinmotion.com/Touchstone_V28.html
INSPIRATIONS & EXPLORATIONS
from JIMMY SANTIAGO BACA Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo Book by Oscar Zeta Acosta “... a good book.” - Jimmy
from REV. JULIE BARNES, LMHC Tricycle: The Buddhist Review Facebook Page by Tricycle Magazine “...consistently awesome articles on socially-engaged Buddhist practice.” - Julie
from REV. STEVE BONSEY Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening Book by Cynthia Bourgeault “Excellent written work on the technique, history, and theology of centering prayer.” - Steve
from ARIADNE CLIFTON The Book Thief (2013) Film directed by Brian Percival Adapted from The Book Thief, a novel by Markus Zusak
from NADIA COLBURN, Ph.D. The Dhamma Brothers
Documentary film directed by Jenny Phillips “The film shows the power of teaching meditation in a high security prison, and explores questions of bondage and freedom” - Nadia
from C. PERRY DOUGHERTY How Can I Help?
Book by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman “...written from and for a specific generation in United States history, and yet the stories and ideas offered inspired my own present-day reflection on the meaning of service...” - Perry
... FROM THE CONTRIBUTORS & EDITORS, WITH LOVE.
from KIRBY ERLANDSON The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present Book by Eric Kandel
from PHIL GARRITY The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche “This book had an enormous influence on my understanding of what it means to face mortality, impermanence and change. By giving voice to our most deeply held fears of ‘letting go,’ it’s both deeply challenging and enlivening.” - Phil
from ROSHI JOAN HALIFAX, PhD “Who Understands Me But Me” (see p. 32)
Poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca
“Jimmy’s strength, joy, optimism and wisdom inspire.” - Roshi Joan
from PELLE LOWE Duino Elegies & The Sonnets to Orpheus Book of poems by Rainer Maria Rilke Translation by Stephen Mitchell
“I remember reading the first poems when I was still a teenager and memorizing lines in German, which I did not understand...” -Pelle
from ELISSA MELARAGNO Say Nothing: Poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi in Persian and English Book of poems by Jelalludin Rumi Translation by Iraj Anvar and Anne Twitty
from JEAN BOSCO NIYONZIMA, M.D., M.A.
Seven Spiritual Laws of Success Teaching by Deepak Chopra
THOU A prayer of the heart by Pelle Lowe
“And what of my own recent experience of an inexplicable tenderness toward parts of myself I had most rejected? This prayer is my way of asking.”
NASA, ESA, HEIC, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)
Thou A Prayer of the Heart You, Beloved, Light of unparalleled beauty in endless galaxies, our stars, our moon, in all that exists in this sacred earth and the gift of my existence on it, You, Beloved, present in your immense Darkness, immanent everywhere in the unknowable universe, even in the terrible night of my soul, You, Who have given me the power to love And a vision of your infinite mercy So that I might learn to cry out to you as I would to one I adore Do not leave! Be with me now! Dearly Beloved, I pray that you see the confusion of my heart, and free it from its prison, so I might open to Your Presence and be astonished with joy. Beloved Friend, Let me walk with You, that I might learn to receive and share Your boundless compassion. Let it be So.
Author’s Note: It isn’t possible for me to look without amazement at the crazy beauty in NASA’s photographs of the galaxies, or to study the intricate lacey patterns traced by an electron, much less to take note of the fact that most of the universe is Something Unknown, larger by far than all we can detect with our most sophisticated technologies: Dark Matter and its companion, Dark Energy. The advanced physics and mathematics that demonstrate that we are all connected in multiple dimensions simply take the top of my head off. How can such beauty exist, I wonder, if there were not a Creator. As I have aged, my sense of awe has only increased and includes an emergent longing for the experience of an intimacy within this infinite miracle. For me this is a new kind of wonder. The tensile fragility of my love for another seems to be only half the story of this longing, the human half of creation. But what of that profoundly untranslatable experience of the mystics? Is it the beauty and terror of the Creator reaching directly into our own hearts? And what of my own recent experience of an inexplicable tenderness toward parts of myself I had most rejected? This prayer is my way of asking. Originally I wrote this in the familiar case, which we have lost in English but retain in many other languages. Tu—in most modern Romance languages the familiar form of address among friends and close family members—was it Abba (the Aramaic equivalent of Daddy) Jesus called out to? And it is like the Du of Martin Buber’s I and Thou. But the older English form has grown strange to us, so I left it only in the title, Thou, but my intention throughout the prayer was to speak in that familiar inward form of address. §
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TO RECEIVE FUTURE ISSUES OF ANCHOR Make an annual donation of $35 or more to Still Harbor, and you will receive two issues of Anchor each year. Your gift will support Still Harborâ€™s mission to provide spiritual formation and accompaniment to individuals and organizations seeking to make change in the world. Send your check payable to Still Harbor using the enclosed envelope or make your gift online at stillharbor.org/anchor.
The inaugural issue, which includes works by Roshi Joan Halifax, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Rev. Steve Bonsey. Still Harbor publishes a Sprin...