30 January 2017

Valentines. Living Beyond Argument


The residents of the Mansion say they are grateful to me for bringing Red to them, and Maria as well, but the truth is that I am grateful to them for letting me into their lives. Red and Connie are valentines, I think, they have come to love one another in a pure and simple way. Red gets to heal and connect, which he is drawn to do, and Connie opens up her heart and memory to a dog, when life does not give her many more opportunities to do it herself.

I often wonder why I am drawn to this work, and it would be lovely to think of myself as selfless, people say the nicest things to me about it. But I know life – and people like me – are more complex than that. Sitting in Connie's room today, watching this ballet of affection and comfort between she and Red, I realized how peaceful the place was, how quiet it was, how accepting and sincere everyone there seemed to be.

It is, unlike the world outside, a world beyond argument and judgment.

I kept wondering why that was so, and when I came home, and heard and came across the arguments  raging online and in the news about whether a Senator's tears were real or not – I wanted to cry myself at how low we have fallen, that we should fight about this,  one way or the other, that we are so addicted to argument we no longer even remotely grasp what it is we are really fighting about.

I can't imagine arguing about this, I do not understand what it could possibly matter to me, or how I could possibly know and wish to spend valuable minutes of my life fighting about it. Isn't life and time more precious than this. Ask the Mansion residents, they know.

How low have we fallen, how low can we go? Is there a bottom to this? There is for me.

Are our lives so empty and hollow, I wonder, that we have nothing more fulfilling and meaningful to do?

We are drawn somehow, if we are not strong or careful,  into this vortex of eternal and endless argument, and while the Mansion residents are no saints, and are very human, and squabble and complain from time to time, I realized that this is the world I have been thinking about. A World Beyond Argument.

It is also a world beyond judgment. In one sense, the residents have lost everything – homes, spouses, friends, dogs, ambition – they are beyond judgment and complaint. In another, they have gained peace of mine, safety and help, they are freed from much worry.

They practice their own faith of acceptance and simplicity. Their lives, are by dint of necessity, simple and spare. They have money and pressure behind as well. They are keenly aware of the value of time, they know they do not have a lot of it to fritter away.

When you come to the Mansion, they tell me, you are admitting that you can no longer care for yourself. You are letting go of many great weights.

Connie said she did not want to impose on her children any longer, so she came to Mansion in October. "I had my life, they had the right to have theirs," she said, as she stroked Red. That is one of life's most profound decisions, it shrinks almost any argument to it's justifiably small and useless size.

The residents of the Mansion are at the very edge of life, they have so much time behind them, so little time ahead of them.

They have left behind argument and ambition and the arrogance of thinking we know whether another person's tears are genuine or not, or caring – go on Facebook and shake your head at the number of people fighting passionately about this, right now and far into the night. I found it chilling, a hopeless scene straight out of Dante, not the world I wish to live in or even wander through.

Maria told me tonight that she could imagine living in the Mansion if the time came when she could not care for herself.

There is no family to care for us when we can't care for ourselves,  she said. This surprised me,  made me sad, and guilty, I felt responsible, as men often wrongly do. If I had been able to save or keep more money, she wouldn't have to worry about that, but then she corrected me.

She said she wasn't worrying about it, she thought it would be fine, it was a peaceful place where people treated one another respectfully and also had their space and privacy. A place to be cared for, when you could not care for yourself or wish to intrude on the lives of others.

There were people to talk to, people to help. A park to walk in outside, the town right nearby.

I hadn't though about that,  in that way, institutions have always seemed to me to be something to avoid.

But it is true. I am living beyond argument in my own life, argument is not a useful or productive or creative way to live. It seems to harden belief and close minds. It resolves nothing. It kills thought.  In a marriage or relationship, or a classroom,  arguments can be healthy, necessary. But they are not the point, and they cannot be endless and hurtful and forever angry and unyielding.

This idea has become one of the most important ideas of my life, I have been edging towards it for some years. It is a great spiritual boon, and a preserve and nourisher of creativity. No one who argues can really be creative, there is simply no available space left in one's consciousness. The Gods of Creativity do not reward an angry head, what is inside comes out, one way or another.

Some time ago, I stopped arguing my  beliefs online, in e-mail or messages. My thoughts stand or fall on their own, they have the right to live unchallenged for longer than it takes to type a few words on a keyboard.  They have the right to live. The people in the Mansion listen and watch.

I have counseled several friends lately about how to find peace and meaning in times that are so angry and disturbing sometimes. They can't seem to stop themselves from arguing, they feel it their moral duty, and they are outraged. It feels like an addiction to me.  How do I survive it, they say, and do my work?

I am no seer, and no therapist, I tell them. I can only say what I believe. People who want to break away from this thinking have to do the long and hard work of it, and most people can't or won't do that, I know that. They want to fight about whether a politician's tears are real or contrived.

The Mansion residents have helped me to understand how to do this, as does even one day in hospice work. I believe in a World Without Argument, a Post-Argument World. A world of speaking my truth, and of silence and space and listening. I thank the Mansion residents for helping me to get there.

Posted in General

Maria Invited To The Mansion Activity Room: Talk Of India And Travel

Talk Of India

Maria and I came to the Mansion to visit residents with Red, but when we came into the activity room, Maria was invited to sit down and talk. The women at the Mansion are fascinated by her colorful leggings, they want to know where she buys her clothes. She is a fashion hit there.

She was also asked a lot about her upcoming trip to India, and we had a great discussion about hygiene, toilets, food and sex trafficking. At least three of the women in the room – Madeline, who is 93, Jean and Barbara, said they would love to go to India with her.

Everyone talked about the trips they had taken, and the experiences they had in their other lives. We had a good time, it was a fun and lively discussion. Barbara, who was sitting next to Maria, talked about a trip to Alaska, and the blue ice she loved there. She said she'd go again in a minute. "I'll go to India too, if I can," she said.

Maybe next trip. As the residents get to know us, the stories and the memories flow more easily. I have received several invitations to come to the Mansion for dinner while Maria is away. I accepted for one evening, Red is invited also. The activity room is a nerve center for the Mansion, we talked for a half hour, but had to make other visits to people. Maria comes along sometimes, she is a big hit there.

I think the women there are especially interested in hearing her story, she is comfortable telling. I am often struck by the openness of women to friendship, to talking to one another. It is not something most men experience.

Posted in General

Hearts From Connie, From Ohio

Hearts For Connie

I came into Connie's room today at the Mansion and she pointed out this beautiful Valentine's Day pot she received from Priscilla Fuhrman in Ohio. She had Priscilla's card by her chair. It sits on her nightstand, by the bed. I don't know Priscilla Fuhrman, and have never, to my knowledge, communicated with her.

How sweet that she opened her heart to Connie and helped make Valentine's Day a holiday of true meaning. Thanks much. You can write to the residents of the Mansion c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

Posted in General

Politics And The Blog. Popping Bubbles.

Maria's latest creation, an  amazing thing

For the second or third time in the history of my blog, someone has written me and asked to be taken off the subscriptions list. Dianne said she has been reading my books and blogs for yours, "but you are becoming much too political." She thanked me for "how your postings inspired and warmed my heart in the past."

I thanked Diane back and told her she didn't need to ask to be removed from the list (I can't add or remove people, for their own freedom and protection), she could instantly do it herself, and wished her every good luck. I would never ask anyone to sign up for the blog, which is free, or try to talk them out of leaving.

If people are not comfortable here, they should, of course go, and I completely respect their decisions, they are private and personal. Diane's message prompted me to write a bit about the intrusion of some politics onto the blog lately. I have written many times that this is not a political blog, but a respite from politics and the insanity of the news.

People are entitled to some mission statement.

I have also said that I share my life, good and bad, and in recent weeks, politics have intruded onto my consciousness and life, and so I am sharing that, along with other things. I never want the blog to be a political blog, neither do I want it to be in hiding from the world, a place only for pretty landscapes and cute animal photos. That is too small a menu for my head, too small a scope.

Among my other missions is the hope that people have some inspiration for thinking here, I am not a prisoner or the left or the right, I think I swing both ways much of the time. In our culture, I know that is sometimes considered heretical.

I was surprised in November to learn that many of my blog and book readers voted for Donald Trump, and that truly got me to thinking – and listening. We have had some good dialogues with one another, I am learning a lot.

One or two regular communicators have disappeared, I suspect they can't bear some of my feelings, but there are all sorts of reasons in life to change one's habits, they don't all have to do with me and my blog.

I am happy that almost all of the people with different points of view that I know about have stayed with me, I think they know I respect them as people of conscience, and have no need to denigrate them, judge them, or drive them off.

I do not need to be agreed with, and I believe in listening to other points of view. There is no other way I know of for a mind to grow.

Hopefully, we all learn again how to talk and listen to one another. This is as good a place as any to start.

As I have written, issues like immigration are deeply personal for me, and I don't think I can, in good conscience, ignore my feelings about them. They are part of who I am, and the blog is about my life, it is my living memoir.

I don't argue these feelings, I never write to persuade people or tell them what to do.  What happened this week was very difficult for me, and many others, and I would be a poor writer if I did not share the experience of working through it.

I have no desire to let the day-to-day mayhem of our political system infect my blog, or to join in the left-right raging on social media. There are lots of places to go for that. I love to say this is not CNN or Fox News, and it is true.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will be writing about some of these political issues from time to time, as they emerge. I did not imagine a Donald Trump presidency when I began the blog. I did not even imagine it in November.

I hope to write regularly about the refugee families I will be helping with Maria. There might be some others.

I could not live with myself if I didn't try to show that the refugees I know are not threats to us or our way of life. I will also write about what is on my mind, and I can't predict precisely what that will be.

I have also written about ways for all of us to stay grounded in this sometimes disturbing times and find better ways of expressing ourselves than through anger and hate messages. I hope to keep on doing that.

Mostly, I wrote about the farm and the animals here and share my photographs of my world and my life. That will not change and has not changed. Politics has taken up a very small amount of space here, even lately,  my life goes on and so will my promise to share it. There are wonderful subjects here at the farm – Maria and her work, Red and his, Fate's joyous ride through life, my search for love and  spirituality, the sweet donkeys and spunky pony.

Those are the big stories for me, the stories of my life.

Not too long ago, it was common for Americans to read things they disagreed with and seek out other points of view. It was how our democracy worked. That is an idea that seems to have nearly perished in our polarized world, we are increasingly trapped in our own echo chambers and bubbles. People write me every day to say they don't agree with me, but keep on reading me, and it shocks me every time.

Is agreeing with someone all the time the new measure of good writing?

In our bubbles, we only believe what we want to believe, hear what we want to hear. I strive to be a bubble-popper, for my sake, for yours, for the sake of free speech and thought.

I hope that does not happen to me, this retreat into closed and angry spaces.

I will work hard to avoid that awful fate, that is the death of the mind. We will either survive together or perish together.

So thanks for being here, Diane, I sincerely hope you find what you need. You owe me no explanations of any kind.

I wanted all of you to know what I am thinking and planning, it is obvious to me, but not, of course to you.

Nobody should remain here for a second against their will, and I hope the blog continues to be a source of nourishment and uplift and stimulation for people. That's the idea. If you need to go, go in peace, and blessings to you for having shared this space.

I should say the blog traffic is higher than ever, and thanks for that also.

Posted in General

Over The Gulley Bridge

Over The Gulley Bridge

Our friend Ed Gulley has liberated our woods, about 12 acres of woodland out behind the pasture that has been inaccessible to us because of a fast-flowing stream. We are hardy and handy, but not that hardy. We had elaborate plans to hire someone one day to come over with a truckload of lumber and build some sort of walkway, but we didn't wish to build anything too large, and didn't have a lot of money and just kept putting it off.

Never underestimate the ingenuity and creativity of the farmer, Ed Gulley came over with Carol one day and walked out back and announced later he was coming over with a bridge. We couldn't imagine. He showed up with large chunk of wood, two old plans of chestnut (I think) and a drill.

Ed is the size of a small dinosaur and hauled this stuff down in a cart, he crawled into the water  (which was freezing) and mumbled and grunted, and lo!, the Ed Gulley Memorial Bridge (I'm calling it a Memorial Bridge because it is unlikely anyone will build a bridge in Ed's name when he is gone, although he will not be soon forgotten).

I was a little tentative about the bridge at first, it is narrow and looked a bit thin to me, but I was wrong. The bridge is sold and sturdy and easily  bears my weight.

In the woods, we are finding some paths through the dense brush, there are some lovely streams back there.

I cross it slowly, and sometimes sideways. Maria skips across it and so do the dogs, and we are loving our woods more and more each trek, it is peaceful and interesting back there, the space has a spiritual edge to it, and this week we will set about removing the various hunting stands built without our knowledge or approval.

We'll keep one because it might be fun to sit up in. Ed is threatening to come build a bench for us to sit on or meditate on. We don't want to take advantage or him or Carol, but there is really no stopping him once his mind is made up. More to come.

Posted in General