I have this ongoing monolog with myself. It’s a variation over the same question: why study & write about art – why not do something important with your (my…?) life? The question got very loud a few weeks ago when visiting Dachau, but it murmurs on – also in more trivial settings.
The dark times are far from over, says Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux in The Poet’s Companion: “It seems we have always lived in dark times; from beginning of human history …”
And here my question about focusing on art in difficult times gets company, A & L examines the challenge beautifully:
Writing a poem in such times may feel a little like fiddling while Rome burns. Yet we’re poets. Writing is what we do in the world – or part of it anyway – and as ephemeral as it might sometimes seem, the making of poems is a necessary act, one that allies itself with hope rather than despair.
Language is a power that is used in many ways. Advertising exploits language to convince us we are buying not only a product but a bit of class, or sexiness, or sophistication. Politicians hire speechwriters to play on our sense of patriotism, our fears, our compassion …
Poems, on the other hand, use language to tell the truth – …
As artists, poets and writers we are witnesses – we see what happened, and through our imagination; what never did, because art also bears witness to the endless human capacity for creative invention.
The poetry of witness, says Carolyn Forché, reclaims the social from the political and in so doing defends the individual against illegitimate forms of coercion.
Here is Adrienne Rich:
In modern business institutions stress is framed as a personal problem, and mindfulness is offered as just the right medicine to help employees work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments.
I have been studying Mindfulness and practicing meditation for a few years. For a short while I also participated in a formal teacher training course. I find meditation in the Buddhist tradition very compelling, and very-very difficult. My mind is no good at keeping still. And maintaining a praxis on ones own is rather difficult. Still I try to sit – every day.
My favorite “online” teachers are: Pema Chödrön & Jack Kornfield. I also really like to listen to (and follow the guided meditations of) Tara Brach and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I find them all to be very serious in their work, and very well informed. I especially appreciate the combination of wisdom and humor I find in the work of Chödrön & Kornfield.
But there is – as I guess you know – a whole lot of westerners offering teachings, and especially stress-mastering courses these days. It has become an industry in its own ( a part of the kind of self-help industry that sees the subject and not the collective as having problems). I’m rather critical about much of this. Because, through my own praxis, I have learned that there is no quick fix, and that meditation is as much about sitting with/in pain as it is about stress relief. To me this is a life-long ethical process, not a defined project with a certain goal.
Uncoupling mindfulness from its ethical and religious Buddhist context is understandable as an expedient move to make such training a viable product on the open market. But the rush to secularize and commodify mindfulness into a marketable technique may be leading to an unfortunate denaturing of this ancient practice, which was intended for far more than relieving a headache, reducing blood pressure, or helping executives become better focused and more productive.
While a stripped-down, secularized technique — what some critics are now calling “McMindfulness” — may make it more palatable to the corporate world, decontextualizing mindfulness from its original liberative and transformative purpose, as well as its foundation in social ethics, amounts to a Faustian bargain. Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.
This is why Buddhists differentiate between Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Wrong Mindfulness (miccha sati). The distinction is not moralistic: the issue is whether the quality of awareness is characterized by wholesome intentions and positive mental qualities that lead to human flourishing and optimal well-being for others as well as oneself.
- how come something like this could happen … ?
I had so much been looking forward to reading this book, expecting it to be a feast – at the level of my best reading experiences. But there just wasn’t any sparkle between us, I felt as if I was trying to light wet wood, like something heavy, compact and sad -. How come I couldn’t read William Gass’ On Being Blue?
And all my virtual friends, praising the book up in the sky …
what did they see that I didn’t?
It’s a mystery.
A lousy picture, I know – but this is as good as it gets with my iPhone. And I really wanted to show you my new neighbor; a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea).
The Grey Heron is a large grey heron having white and black accents, a white crown with black plumes, black belly and white thighs. You can read almost everything about it here -