Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Seasonal Order Syndrome/All is but thinking so.

A friend recently complained of what he called a seasonal disorder syndrome. He said at this time of year he becomes melancholy and depressed. He called it a seasonal disorder but, I think it may just be normal. Nothing abnormal or disorderly about it, but rather normal and completely orderly. Something to be experienced and accepted just as we accept the budding of each new spring or the exuberance of summer. This is a normal happening, an orderly transition that has been going on for eons.
Acceptance is probably the key. Feeling blue or down or depressed or melancholy is probably just normal when the leaves start to fall.
I love what Wendell Berry wrote about this.
He said:
When I rise up
let me rise up joyful like a bird.
When I fall
let me fall without regret like a leaf.

I'm not entirely certain, but I think Wendell might have been influenced by the writings of Marcus Aurelius who wrote in his book THE MEDITATIONS the following quotes I lifted:

Among the foremost things which you will look into are these two: external matters do not affect the soul but stand quietly outside it, while true disturbances come from the inner judgment; second, that everything you see has all but changed already and is no more.

The universe is change, life is understanding.

Death like birth is a mystery of nature.

The life of every man is short and yours is almost finished while you do not respect yourself but allow your happiness to depend upon the souls of others.

A man is not easily found to be unhappy because he takes no thought for what happens in the soul of another; it is those who do not attend to the disturbances of their own soul who are inevitably in a state of unhappiness.

Discard the thought of injury, and the words “I have been injured” are gone; discard the words “I have been injured,” and the injury is gone.

The nature of the universally beneficial has inevitably brought this about.

Everything which happens is right.

Many grains of incense on the same altar; one was cast earlier, the other later, but it makes no difference.

Everything which is in tune with you, O Universe, is in tune with me. Nothing which happens at the right time for you is early or late for me. Everything, O Nature, which your seasons produce is fruit to me. All things come from you, exist in you, and will return to you.

Most of our words and actions are unnecessary and whoever eliminates these will have more leisure and be less disturbed.

Whether a thing is bad for you does not depend upon another man’s directing mind, nor upon any turn or change in your environment. Upon what then? Upon that part of you which judges what is bad. Let it make no such judgment and all is well.

Time is a river of things that become, with a strong current. No sooner is a thing seen than it has been swept away, and something else is being carried past, and still another thing will follow.

Everything that happens is as customary and understandable as the rose in springtime or the fruit in summer. The same is true of disease, death, slander and conspiracy, and all the things which delight or pain foolish men.

What happens next is always intimately related to what went before.

Journey then through this moment of time in accord with nature, and graciously depart, as a ripened olive might fall, praising the earth which produced it, grateful to the tree that made it grow.

All is but thinking so.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Anger and Resentments

Earlier this year I was asked to give a sermon at a church in Shelter Island, NY. I'd done this once before, enjoyed it and accepted another invitation. The scripture reading was from Luke and presented me with an opportunity to talk about Anger and Resentments.
Good Morning!
I am delighted to be back here at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church. It is always wonderful to sit in this beautiful sanctuary and it is a real honor to come with an invitation to fill in for my good friend Pastor Bill. I remember having breakfast with Bill last summer when he said right out of the clear blue, “Would you be willing to give a sermon some time at the church?” To which I replied, “What do you have in mind?” and without hesitating he said, “August 23rd is what I have in mind.” Well I did give the sermon last August and after another meal with Bill a few weeks ago I find myself back here again at his request.
Last time when I was here I spoke about how we are all connected and how we all share the common thread of our humanness. Today I was inspired by the scripture reading to talk about Anger and Resentments. A subject that sadly, I know a great deal about.
I love today’s scripture reading. Luke offers some beautiful insights to lead a long and happy life.
He starts off by inviting us to “love our enemies” a very tall order indeed. Historically I have gotten too caught up in my righteous indignation or worse, my anger and resentments to ever consider the idea of loving those that have wronged me.
I was always certain they owed me an apology instead of considering that I might apologize to them for holding these thoughts.
We think that by giving people our worst thoughts, our worst words, our worst actions or the silent treatment that we are hurting them, but the truth is we are hurting ourselves far more. There are many methods for dealing with this problem and one of the very best is a meditation practiced by Buddhists.
In their meditation practice they silently send kind and loving thoughts, firstly, to those they know and love most dearly, secondly, to those they barely know or are complete strangers to and lastly to those who they despise or have anger and resentments towards.
This practice develops a kind and loving attitude towards all people and is one way I have learned to lessen my anger and resentments and hopefully to lead a longer and happier life.
I cannot achieve this healthy, happy life by holding anger and resentments towards others. When I have looked closely at anger and resentments I have come to realize that they are very poisonous. And……this poison has proven to be the most harmful to me.
Anger and resentments are self-induced poison. Like the Buddhist meditation practice of sending kind and loving thoughts to those we hold resentments towards, Luke offers a similar cure. In today’s scripture Luke tells us “…to love our enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”
This lesson for me came late in life. I was 52 years old when I began changing my story. The story about what a difficult childhood I had and what a sorry, wretched father I had. You could easily detect the anger and resentments that I was holding towards him and it didn’t take much to ascertain how the pain from this poison was eating me up and slowly killing me. By finally realizing this I was able to see how all my bad feelings weren’t hurting him, after all, he’d been dead for many years, but they were making my life and the lives of those around me miserable. Imagine that, I was quite literally making my own life miserable and the lives of those around me miserable, all the while trying to blame it on others, my difficult childhood, and my father. The problem the whole time was directly in front of me. The problem was staring me right in the face. The problem was in the mirror. Finally, and with much relief, I came to realize that the solution could be found in the same place.
Instead of sending angry and resentful thoughts out into this world, I began a practice of sending kind and loving thoughts out into this world. More specifically, I began sending kind and loving thoughts to those I had the most difficulty with and high on that list was my father. Slowly but surely my life has changed. I am happier and healthier. To those around me I have become someone to share a life with. I am no longer stuck in the grip of self-induced pain and---most wonderfully---I have experienced what Luke goes on to say will happen as a result of loving my enemies. He writes:
“Then your rewards will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.”
Well my rewards are unbelievably great and I’ve come to think of myself as a son of the Most High.
My rewards are unbelievably great and far too numerous to share with you now. But…I would like to share one very important reward with you----I am happy---and---I am in love with my father again; my father who resides in me, my father who raised me and the father I’ve become to my own children.
This is a gift of unbelievable magnitude. Luke knew it and Luke tried to share it with us. “Do not judge,” he wrote, “and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” These beautiful, simple words had been available to me for half a century. They are the absolute medicine and the cure for what had ailed me for so long. After years of frustration and poisonous thoughts I am finally beginning to understand the truth of Luke’s words.
Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.
Two summers ago I was sitting on the beach re-reading The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. This timeless classic, written sometime around 160 AD, has been one of my bibles. I remember reading these words, which very well could have been influenced by the words of Luke: “Discard the thought of injury and the words ‘I have been injured’ are gone; discard the words ‘I have been injured,’ and the injury is gone.”
I felt so injured for so long and now, having discarded the words and the thoughts of injury, my anger and resentments have been lifted. They have been lifted and replaced with kind and loving words and thoughts, for my father, for those around me and for myself.
All great teachers over the centuries have written about the power of love. They have offered their thoughts to cures for anger and resentments. Most notably these have included the practice of loving kindness.
Luke’s simple advice, were it to be taken-up by all, would surely change the world. To love our enemies, to love those who have wronged us, to love those who we hold anger and resentments towards.
The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote:
Love all of God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. And once you have perceived it, you will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly, more and more every day. And you will at last come to love the whole world with an abiding, universal love.
My favorite quote on this subject, one Luke would most assuredly have agreed with, comes from Mahatma Gandhi who wrote these very simple, very direct, very unambiguous words:
Love is the strongest force the world possesses.
Today this force is alive and well in me. It is a very strong force. It is not so strong that I don’t fall prey to anger and resentments, however. But when I find these anger and resentments boiling up in me I try and turn to those that I hold them against and offer an apology. I apologize for holding these thoughts. I tell the other person that I don’t want to hold these thoughts, that these thoughts are poison and I don’t want any poison in me or my thoughts, I only want to share a kind and loving attitude towards this person and I ask them for forgiveness for harboring such thoughts.
By giving this loving force to others it is given to me.
Just as Luke wrote in today’s scripture:
“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Autumn in Bridgehampton

Large cumulus billow overhead.
Lesser clouds race by closer in.
Intense shapes of yellow announce morning.
The air is brisk made present by the bending trees.
Crows take flight and make the only sound.
Autumn in Bridgehampton.

Monday, May 3, 2010


The forecast for the day should have read: hail and snow, intermixed with sunshine, gale-force winds, and the occasional passing hurricane. The morning woke me with sleet striking the window of Catherine Home. The wind sounded like rushing water as it swirled through the village of North Berwick. I put on my plus fours and stood by the window, contemplating. What a beautiful sight, I thought. The force and fury of just a minor storm, hardly disturbing the large brown chickens while bending the flagstick on the 16th, the familiar silhouette of Lamb Island across the timeless linksland asked for nothing. All punctuated by the wind evidenced as a whistle somewhere in the cracks between the stone.

After breakfast, in the kitchen near the ruined half of the house where we talked of renovations and conservatories, we made our way down into the village because it would take more than the weather to stop me from my appointed round. Elsewhere in the world some might question our sanity, but here along this ancient shore no one gave us a second look. National pastime. The weather here isn’t always like this, but it was just one of those days.

One of those days, indeed, when the strength of your heart is brought to the limit. Sailing through the air on a straight and true line was a piece of myself going somewhere with all my concentration behind it. Sometimes, when it seems like everything is trying to stop you, you pass a point of no return. At this point your insides no longer question what you are doing; your constitution allows your muscles to relax and your mind to let go - dissolving itself into that vast universe of peace. Now is the time when your perceptions will make your memories. Letting not one blow pass me by, I stand forward and confidently offer the winds the chance to test me.

In the world, this happens in small ways every day. It has happened in big ways from time to time throughout history and the spirit behind both is the same – freedom and love. Despite the inability to reach a green in regulation there is a sense that all is right, the knowledge that one will turn at the nine and fly home. Somewhere out there beyond the last burn lies the two fives that mark the end of the struggle. At this time you find your thoughts and yourself melting away. Here, between the third fairway and the stone wall guarding the entrance to the green, that spirit allowed me to melt away in anticipation of the day and days to come. Days filled with a heightened awareness born from the brush of the wind. That wind became my voice howling over the links that had long ago become a part of me. The spirit of life and the freedom to live it were swirling around me from every direction. To know that feeling, with all its strength and fury, gives me the peace of mind to understand how to love something.

I’m fortunate enough to say that I am in love. And despite the strength and fury of that feeling, despite all its complications, it is a calm body of water. It is a feeling that has peace at its core, and at its edges is this man, standing in the morning’s light, savoring the howling wind and pushing forth into the course, the world and himself, knowing that nothing can make him give up and go home. Nothing. If only there were guarantees that as surely as the Redan slopes right to left, the spirit that keeps us swinging – that spirit that does not accept retirement- will flow on forever. Yes, it was just one of those days when you really understand what it means to be alive.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Ice Melts

Andrew Greig writes in At the Loch of the Green Corrie that, “The ice melts, returns, melts again, carves out extraordinary things.” He says, “We are now in the Holocene Interglacial period, and it is too early to say whether the Ice Age is over, or merely taking a break before returning to make global warming seem a benign temporary blip.”

We are also on an intergalactic trip, spinning along in an extraordinarily unstable universe we have a near impossible time defining. Our planet is not stable and never has been. The instability allowed us to happen and will one day accomplish the opposite. Only the hubris of mankind could imagine a sense of control where none exists. The Sioux had a saying for all this: Take courage, the earth is all that lasts. Perhaps.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I was just in New Zealand and met a man named Peter Beadle. He is an artist and paints these incredible landscapes from this part of the world. I read one of his books where he said that if I stayed there for a few weeks I would "...realize that man’s life, in sickness and in health, is bound up with the forces of nature; and that nature, so far from being opposed and conquered, must rather be treated as an ally and friend, whose ways must be understood, and whose counsel must be respected." I did stay for a few weeks. I hiked 33 miles on the Milford Track where I took these two pictures. One evening my friend Max invited us to share with each other what we were thinking that day as we were marching through this grandeur. The insignificance of mankind could certainly be felt there. The towering peaks, thunderous waterfalls, dense forests with ancient beech, and eerie bird calls, all conspired to shrink me down to a very humble size. The evening star cover was vast, clear and unfamiliar to me. The entire experience left me filled with awe and respect for a planet we call HOME. What was I thinking? I'm not sure really. It had something to do with appreciation. Perhaps appreciation that I am not in control. That something else, some larger energy, is at work in the universe. Something about which I know very little at all. Not knowing is such a relief. Beadle had invited me to understand and respect nature. My respect is there; the understanding may take a lifetime or two.