I’m spending much of the summer on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle. Here are some notes about how life and the world look to me right now.
First, life. My 75th year offers opportunities for reflection. I care about what I am reading, what I am writing, and how I am spending these precious years.
Right now I am reading: Quaker Faith and Practice from the British Quakers, a remarkable compendium of over 350 years of faith and practice of their community. Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life, by the eminent British scholar Edith Hall, the first woman to win the Erasmus Medal of the European Academy. MFK Fisher’s delicious compendium The Art of Eating, which includes “How to Cook a Wolf.” This I owe to my wife Sharyle Patton, an extraordinary cook and reader of cookbooks.
I am re-reading Carl Jung’s magnificent The Red Book, his record of his descent into near-madness that became the ur-text for all his subsequent work. Two Rumi books, The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks and the quite different and equally beautiful Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi’s Forgotten Message, by the distinguished American Sufi sheik Shems Friedlander.
I just finished reading The Plays of Euripides in a beautiful translation by Paul Roche. I discovered a touching critique of the New Age by David Spangler and William Irwin Thompson, a transcription of the Chinook Summer Conferences of July 1988 and 1989 here on Whidbey, published in 1991.
I am astonished by Stephen Jay Gould’s tour de force Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, which offers a radically different view of evolution. I am grateful for BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger’s excellent A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, which is perfect to share with anyone who wants a non-spiritual pragmatic guide to the end of life. The first chapter: “Don’t leave a mess.”
For those of you familiar with Enneagram (see our New School conversations and panels with Beatrice Chestnut, whose The Complete Enneagram I consult almost weekly), I am an Enneagram 5, “The Observer.” Some wag said that an Enneagram 5’s favorite activity is “a date with knowledge.” Five’s error is to believe that knowledge can be a substitute for human interaction. I like nothing more than to eat breakfast with The New York Times spread out in front of me. I resolved this month to limit time on the Internet to less than 12 hours a day. I quickly realized this gave me more time for reading. So summertime is a kind of pig heaven. Away from Commonweal for two months, I read, write, walk, work out, practice a kind of free-form qi gong, and, inevitably, think.
Second, the world. I refer you to our new website, resilienceproject.ngo, and to the recent video and podcast of the Resilience Gathering at Commonweal, particular to the extraordinary plenary by the great resilience thinker Nate Hagens, who teaches Reality 101 at the University of Wisconsin. Fundamentally, several dozen global stressors are creating a “perfect storm” we cannot avoid. Most people don’t want to think about what we are facing. It is not for the faint of heart. At the same time, some of us by our nature are called to look Reality directly in the face. Doing so will help us prepare for what is coming. As the great science fiction writer William Gibson observes, “The future is already here. It is just not very evenly distributed.”
Looking Reality in the face is like looking death in the face. It is not for everyone. Those designed to do so may find they are able to live more examined lives as a result. In our resilience work, as reflected in the Resilience Project, we don’t try to tell you what to think or do about what we are facing. We don’t even pretend there is a unified vision of what we are facing. The challenge is to find ways to live in this time with courage, with hope, and even with joy. As Hafiz says, “Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.”
The Quakers (among others) believe all humans are equal. That every human has “that of God” within. That we find the divine according to our own lights when we gather in silence. That we can speak needed words into the center of the silence. That words cannot suffice. That our lives must speak. That we are all radically imperfect mixtures of good and bad. That even so we can be used for God’s purpose.
I refuse to let the madmen ruin my day. They are ruining so much else. “Make me an instrument of thy peace.” May I tend to the work and friends and community I have been given. May I do whatever I can to bring healing to my corner of the world.
May you find your way to live and serve in the current madness. The night sky and the sliver moon are beautiful. I have been married for 35 years to a woman I love. Friendship remains a gift beyond compare. I thank my friends for walking together through this dark night. May we each be a light unto each other. And unto the earth.