Summer Reading


A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies 
are not starving someplace, they are starving 
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils. 
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants. 
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not 
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not 
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women 
at the fountain are laughing together between 
the suffering they have known and the awfulness 
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody 
in the village is very sick. There is laughter 
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta, 
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay. 

If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction, 
we lessen the importance of their deprivation. 
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, 
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have 
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless 
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only 
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. 
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, 
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. 
We must admit there will be music despite everything. 
We stand at the prow again of a small ship 
anchored late at night in the tiny port 
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront 
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning. 
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat 
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth 
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

—Jack Gilbert

Dear TNS Friends:

I hope the summer finds you well. TNS friend Katherine Fulton sent me this Jack Gilbert poem. It seems apt for our time.

Some of you have been asking about the edited audio and video podcasts of my recent conversation with Michael Pollan on his best-selling book on psychedelics, How to Change Your Mind. These are now available on our website, Soundcloud, iTunes, and YouTube. 

Since you may have time this summer to listen to TNS podcasts or watch TNS videos, I thought I might offer some thoughts. TNS podcasts are great company when you are driving somewhere. Our videos are often more interesting than what you can find on TV.

We now have more than 250 TNS conversations online at TNS. You can search our list of conversation series, or by subject matter in the word cloud.

Recent conversations that are now edited and posted include Lael Duncan, MD, on the art and science of compassionate care; Joanna Macy on the wisdom of our grief and outrage; Brian Bouch, MD, on integrative oncology; Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, on the Sonoma fires as a time of discovery;  and Mary Evelyn Tucker on living with the Universe Story.

In the TNS Library, you’ll find spiritual biographies with Brother David Steindl-Rast, Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Everyday Zen founder Norman Fischer, the late Angeles Arrien, Robert McDermott, Jacob Needleman, David Spangler, Friz Hull, Jerry Jampolsky, and Diane Cirincione-Jampolsky—and my first spiritual biography conversation with Orland Bishop, which inspired all the subsequent ones.

Steve Heilig is a frequent host for TNS. You can find his conversations in our Library as well. His conversation partners include Joanna Macy, Peter Coyote, David Smith, Frank Ostaseski, Sadja Greenwood, and many more.

Irwin Keller hosts our conversations for TNS Sonoma County, which are held at Congregation Ner Shalom in Cotati, California. His recent conversation partners include Francis Weller, Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, and Sharyle Patton from Commonweal; Chas Nol; Alison Luterman; Holly Near; Larry Robinson; and Sumbul Ali-Karamani.

I encourage you to sample conversations with people you have never heard of. Fame is no indicator of inner life. As Hannah Arendt said, private faces in public places are much nicer than public faces in private places. Stephanie Sugars lived 20 years with metastatic breast cancer and lived on less than $15,000 a year in a converted goat barn in rural Sonoma County. Her inner life was a jewel beyond price.

My conversation with Beatrice Chestnut on her book The Complete Enneagram, and a spiritual biography with Kristina Flanagan — a Vedic astrologer, opera lover, and horse whisperer–will both be available soon.

Our TNS website averages about 1,000 users a month making almost 2,000 visits — with many more accessing podcasts and videos on West Marin Community Radio KWMR as well as via iTunes, YouTube, Vimeo, and Soundcloud streams from around the world.

Move at the pace of guidance, our friend Christina Baldwin says. This hand-crafted, quiet community of knowledge-seekers does just that.

If you enjoy The New School, it wouldn’t hurt to tell your friends and encourage them to join us.

And, a reminder, we depend on your support to keep TNS going — now, more than ever, since several generous donors have completed their commitments. If you can afford to put $10 or $20 a month on your credit card, it makes a big difference. You can donate here.

Have a beautiful summer. With deep gratitude for the TNS community,

Michael Lerner