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“Your real duty is to go away from the community to find your bliss.” – Joseph Campbell
7 February 2016

Sanctity: Being Myself

By: Jon Katz
Sanctity: Being Myself

Sanctity: Being Myself

For me, holiness is more than humanity. Sanctity consists of being myself and for you, perhaps, sanctity consists of being yourself. For the trees and animals, there is little choice.  They are made without consultation, they are given no choice in the direction of their lives, they live without conscience, ambition or regret.

We are given the gift – perhaps the curse – of being free to choose, to be whatever we would like to be.  We can be ourselves, or we can be the person others wish us to be. A mystic once wrote:

"The seeds that are planted in my liberty at every moment, are the seeds of my own identity, my own reality, my own happiness, m own sanctity."

To deny or refuse them is to refuse everything, life itself. It is the refusal of my very existence and being, of my identity, of my very self. If I have a fear, it this: If I never become what I am meant to be, but always remain what I am not, or what others mean for me to be, I will live in conflict and contradiction, spending all eternity in an unwinnable argument with myself, contradicting myself by being at the same time something and nothing. A life that wishes to be, but is hollow, empty, waiting.

For me, to be holy means to be myself.

Posted in General

Kiss!

By: Jon Katz
Kiss!

Kiss!

I did not often – or ever – imagine in my life that I would kiss a horse every morning when I began my day. Chloe, Maria's much loved pony waits for me at the gate, and I give her a kiss on the nose. She is a bull-headed sweetheart, she has her own ideas about things, but she is always ready with a kiss, Red and Fate can run right under her legs without worry, she loves to be fussed over, groomed, walked and spoken to.

She has a lot of Simon in her, I see, very easy around people, a lover of children, nothing much rattles her. I recommend kissing a horse at the start of the day, it sets the right tone in our fractious world. I'm so glad animals do not embrace politics.

Posted in General

Portrait Of A Young Lady. With Dogs, Life Is Compressed.

By: Jon Katz
Portrait Of A Young Lady

Portrait Of A Young Lady

With dogs, life is compressed. It is one of those things that makes life with them so intense, so emotional sometimes, so powerful. Their lives are short, their bodies change and evolve quickly. Fate is on the cusp, in between being a puppy and a young lady. Her legs are long and lanky, she has a regal bearing sometimes, she is sure of herself, full of personality, curious, loving, in perpetual motion.

Once or twice in day, always towards the evening, she will rest, only if Maria and I are still and not near the door. I get the sense she is pausing, in a month or two she be in adolescence, then soon enough in middle age. This is the wonder and drama and beauty of the dog, if we are wise and strong enough to accept. Dogs give us the choice of mourning all the time – they move through life quickly – or celebrating all the time.

We barely get used to one phase of their lives, and we are in another. How long ago was it that I brought her out to sheep every morning, watched her wide eyes open in amazement. She had found her purpose in life, how often do we get to see that?

Life compressed, engaging us, enchanting us, moving on, as spirit creatures do when their work is done. So much to see and feel. Can a candle that burns that bright keep the flame going forever. No, not forever. In their lives, we see the mirrors of our own, that is why we love them so much.

I choose to celebrate their vibrant lives, just my own choice. It seems like yesterday that Fate came, a crazy little puppy racing around like a bird. Now, she is one of those dogs that share the passages of our lives, eager to be in Maria's studio, to work with sheep, to run in the woods, to ride in the car, to hop up in my lap and chew on my ear. Last night, lying on her bed on the floor, she looked like a dog of entitlement, a young lady.

Posted in General
6 February 2016

Delivering Bread: Back To Yushak’s And The Idea Of Community.

By: Jon Katz
Back To Yushak's

Back To Yushak's: Debbie And Granddaughter

It is said every human being craves community, and I think this is so. Nearly two decades ago, when I moved to the country, I met Dennis and Debbie Yushak who own a grocery store in tiny Shushan, N.Y. Yushak's has become somewhat famous around here for the quality of the meat they sell, people and restaurants come here from far away to buy the meat that Dennis Yushak prepares and sells.

Debbie runs the grocery store. I used to come in every day for food, then moved away to the big farm in West Hebron. I lost touch with Yushak's, a much loved community center in Shushan and nearby towns. Fate has its own ideas about community. Last night, Maria and I went to the Round House Cafe for pizza and Dennis and Debbie were there with one of their sons.

It was wonderful to see them again, they came into my life when I was just beginning to live in the country, and helped me understand it and love it. I was happy to see them again, and resolved to start going there again, it is close by our new farm. I can't even say why I haven't been in, there is a painfully shy part of me, most people don't see it, but it is there.

This morning, my friend Scott Carrino called and asked a favor, he was a bit overwhelmed and not feeling great. Did I have time before my class to deliver some fresh baked bread from the cafe to Dennis Yushak. Scott is not good at asking for help, I was happy to do it. I used to be famous, I joked, when I went to pick up the bread. So I hear, he laughed.  (All of the meat Scott uses in his food comes from Yushak's, and the cafe even has signs proclaiming that.) I said sure, I had time.

I drove quickly to the cafe, picked up the bread (I had to pick up a turkey for the cafe in exchange). Debbie and Dennis were just coming to work, and Debbie was seeing her granddaughter Lucy. I met her other son and his wife, and it was kind of a flashback. I was reminded again of what community means, and of how I need to honor it. I am grateful to be back in touch with Yushak's, you can look for photos from there.

Dennis came to work as I was leaving, we were both happy to see one another. Community is important to the Yushak's, it is what they are about. I told Scott I am available for regular bread deliveries, I can use the money.

Posted in General

Writing Class: Cheryl’s Leap Of Faith. Do Cardinals Speak For The Dead?

By: Jon Katz
Writing Class: Sheryl

Writing Class: Cheryl

Cheryl e-mailed earlier the week to say she was trying a different kind of piece, a different kind of writing, she said she wasn't prepared to bring it to class, it wasn't ready. I urged her to bring it to class, to trust us, those pieces – the new ideas, the ones that aren't ready – are most often the ones we need to share with others.

Many people ask me why I so strongly support writer's sharing their work with others. One reason is that it is the best and only way I know of to learn and improve. When we write only for ourselves, it is hard to grow and mature as a writer, to be strong and confident. On my blog, I try many subjects for the first time an am quick to share them with my readers. I can't do that in books, editors won't permit it, marketers hate the idea.

Here, I have struggled to find my voice with many things, from spirituality to mysticism to love and suffering. My writing is sometimes raw and my thoughts incomplete, I share the process of growing and evolving. People do not object to this, even thought it is far from perfect, they learn and grow with me, take what they like, leave the rest behind. I do not need adoration or agreement, it is not the point.

Cheryl brought her very creative piece to class, it is about a widower thinking about a new relationship and about the appearance of a Cardinal, a bird associated with the spirits of the dead who appears outside of her window. There may or may not be a celibate Buddhist coming into the mix. Cheryl is a widower herself, she is thinking about life and relationships.

A cardinal, according to mythology, is a bird who speaks for the spirits of the dead. Cardinals, they say, appear when angels are near.

We all loved Cheryl's very original and mystical idea, we were surprised and confused by it and first and then understood it and make some suggestions that excited her. She did not suffer from bringing a new and unfinished idea into the world, quite the opposite, she has a better sense of what she wants to say. The class has great ideas, almost every time, and a commitment to support and positive encouragement that is a spiritual experience in itself.

I am happy Cheryl brought us this piece, I can't wait to see where she takes it. For me, writing is not a drama, but a process and a calling. Anyone can be a writer. Writers write, they take the sometimes fearful risk of making themselves vulnerable to the world. It is a cheap price to pay.

Posted in General