Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Stillness Speaks


Calm Before the Storm along the Merrimack: 11/15/22

Stillness Speaks

Suffering from writer’s block, I’ve taken refuge in photography. The part of my brain that spawns words has been blown out of the water like what happens when dynamite is used to catch fish, the result of the blast of doomsday news we face each day.

Facing such a barrage of pending peril can feel like being trapped on a sheer cliff, according to Elizabeth Mattis in a Tricycle Magazine article. She says we must not panic but have the wherewithal to relax to find our way down. That’s because “when we can’t find a foothold, the mind falls into an open stillness – the same brief pause we encounter in any situation where we lose our familiar reference points.⁠1

I can see now, in a like manner, how photography became my foothold. Looking through my latest images, stillness is the common denominator, salve for my wounded brain. You can see my recent healing images on my blog:

Over the years, I have copied down quotes I find enlightening. Searching back through them now, I see some address the nature of stillness. Here’s one from Natalie Goldberg.s book, “The True Secret of Writing.” Despite her writer’s block, it dawned on her she was happy, feeling confident that her energy would rekindle, allowing her to return to writing with full passion.

“But as I lay in bed,” she wrote, “I realized passion was different from happiness. You don’t do happiness. You receive it. It’s like a water table under the earth. Available to everyone but we can only tap it, have it run up through us, with our stillness.⁠2” 

For me, I see now I tapped into stillness by photographing it.

 Joan Halifax, the Buddhist anthropologist, tells us that indigenous people live this truth every day of their lives; as such, they are a precious resource who could help us repair our rapidly disintegrating world. “This wisdom cannot be told, but it is to be found by each of us in the direct experience of silence, stillness, solitude, simplicity…and vision. [They understand] our interconnectedness with all of creation. They know as well as I do that these words are intellectual concepts until this self is directly experienced.⁠3

Echoing indigenous wisdom, the Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr considers silence to be “the very foundation of all reality. It is that out of which all being comes and to which all things return.” Unless we learn to live there, “the rest of things—words, events, relationships, identities—all become rather superficial, without depth or context.⁠4

Rohr goes on to say,”if you can see silence as the ground of all words and the birth of all words, then you will find that when you speak, your words will be more well-chosen and calm.”⁠5  That’s a truth I used to abide by when I practiced meditation regularly: Worthy words and fresh ideas flowed into me unbidden out of the void. Regrettably, not so much now after letting my meditation practice lapse.

According to all these sources, wisdom and creativity flow from that profound stillness that dwells below our thinking minds.  Eckhard Tolle agrees, adding this analogy:“The equivalent of external noise is the inner noise of thinking. The equivalent of external silence is inner stillness.⁠6

Eckhart clarifies that stillness is more than simply the absence of noise and content: “No, it is intelligence itself – the underlying consciousness out of which every form is born.”⁠7 He says the next step in human evolution is to transcend thought. That “doesn’t mean not to think anymore, but simply not to be completely identified with thought, possessed by thought.”⁠8

From my personal experience, that’s the truth of it. Whenever my whole being merges with words and thinking, I become deadened and barren, divorced from the larger reality of who I am.

Thankfully, I’ve discovered I can release myself from the straightjacket of my thinking mind simply by releasing the shutter on my camera.




2 “The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language: by Natalie Goldberg

3 Joan Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom (Kindle Locations 1417-1421). Kindle Edition.

4 Rohr, Richard. Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation (pp. 1-2). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.

5 Ibid, p 8.

6 “Stillness Speaks” bu Eckhart Tolle. New World Library. Large Print Edition. 2003. P22

7 Ibid. p 26.

8 Ibid 41.

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Stillness of Things

Lately, losing the capacity to express myself in words. I have taken refuge in photography. The ever-present shrillness and hysteria of the news gushing from the media – pandemics, climate catastrophe, nuclear apocalypse, the unraveling of our democracy – have unraveled  my brain, short-circuiting any sense of peace and wholeness.  

Looking through my latest images, I discovered they have a common component:

Stillness, salve for my wounded brain.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

War: What's it good for?


The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch

In 2002, Vernon Klinkenborg, known for his odes to country living, wrote The Rural Life, assigning a chapter to each month of the year. In his November entry, he veers off subject, observing that World War I veterans“are impossibly old by now.” (he appears to be making reference to what we now call Veterans Day, celebrated on November 11 – but first observed in 1919 on the first anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.)

Rather than dismissing these old-timers, Klinkenborg argues, we should bring them front and center to remind us of "the intractable knowledge that comes from a place like the battlefields of WW I," where every faith "especially the faith in moral and technical advancement seems to totter.“⁠1

Now, twenty years later, it is us Vietnam veterans who have grown old. Like our WWI forebears, we fought another protracted, brutal conflict that achieved neither peace nor victory. Again, like the architects of the first World War, America has continued to be deluded, blundering ahead into more debacles rather than learning a lesson. Most egregious were our Iraq and Afghanistan wars, attempting to install democracy through the barrel of a gun, but leaving behind a legacy of chaos, charred bodies, and civil War.

Now we are fighting again in eastern Europe, the birthplace of WWI. While we haven’t sent troops, it’s still a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Suddenly the Cold War era has returned and gets hotter by the day. Pulverizing artillery and missile barrages shake Eastern Europe, triggering traumatic memories of WWI as described by Klinkenborg: 

“The clouds have the texture of steel wool. Winter could come the next minute or the next month. But what November has ever been like November in the embattled salience of the Great War, where the earth itself was dismembered, its flesh, confused with the flesh of soldiers, horses, and mules?”⁠2 

This November in Ukraine, history is repeating itself. The sheer inhumanity of it is too much to bear. The shriek of chainsaws, echoing over our NH hills, from folks cutting their firewood now brings to mind the plaintive cries of Ukrainian civilians, mourning the smoldering ruins of their lives.

Why has War been our constant companion throughout history despite its malevolent nature? According to the Jungian psychologist James Hillman, when we are in the throes of War's passion, we are aroused into a frenzy that's not rational. "It is a human accomplishment and an inhuman horror, and a love that no other love has been able to  overcome.”⁠3

However, because War may stir our passions doesn't make it acceptable. Just as cultures around the world reinforce rules against rape and incest, so it must do the same for War because it has no redeeming qualities.  As Chris Hedge states in his new book, War is the Greatest Evil: “War destroys all systems that sustain and nurture life–familial, economic, cultural, political, environmental, and social.”⁠4

No matter how obsessed we are with War, it is not normal. War is a cancer: A bad gene within us, a destructive force that must be excised before it kills us. The way to stop a war is not by upping the ante but by declaring a ceasefire followed by negotiations to de-escalate the situation.

Time is not on our side. 

Rather than prioritizing peaceful alternatives, Congress steams full speed ahead, doubling down on War: Each year, we significantly expand the military budget, continually granting more than the Pentagon requests. Who are we competing with?

We already have 750 bases worldwide and spend more money on War than the next nine countries combined (we spend 12 times what Russia spends). Yet, rather than more peace and safety, we become ever more embroiled in forever wars. 

Perhaps that’s the problem: because we have the world’s biggest military hammer, the whole rest of the world looks like a nail.

We have an immense war establishment, now deceptively called the US department of defense, seamlessly connected to major corporations that make money for its shareholders through War (the military-industrial complex). We have myriad think tanks, bought-off politicians, and lobbying outfits that thrive off this immense beast like pilot fish prosper by eating the parasites on a great white shark, feasting on leftovers the beast does not have room to eat.

It defies the imagination that we have no Department of Peace to offset the military's institutional juggernaut. Instead, we have only small grassroots organizations, like Veterans for Peace, to which I belong. We must support our local peace-seeking places of worship and dedicated nonprofits like NH Peace Action and AFSC. 

They may well be our saviors. War will never be.



1 The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Little, Brown and Company: 2002. p. 183

2 Ibid p. 184

3 A Terrible Love of War by James Hillman.   P. 214