Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

9 December

The Poverty of Spirituality

by Jon Katz

Anais Nin wrote that the possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.

I think we are living in a time of great mystery, half of us are completely befuddled by the other half, and don’t remember how to speak to each other.

“Lord,” prayed St. Francis, “make me an instrument of peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is an injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope, where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy.”

I sometimes wonder where the spiritual people and their wonderful messages are these days. We love to evoke St. Francis, Pope Francis, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Jesus Christ, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King.

They are all gone, and the corporate media has no use for spiritual people, they don’t hate enough and don’t argue loudly enough. Unless we dig out their books, we never hear their voices, certainly not on Fox News or CNN.

The spiritual people have been pushed to the margins of a nation obsessed with greed and power, spirituality sometimes feels like an empty vessel, often invoked, but rarely practiced. Why do we pretend to love these people so much, yet ignore them so easily?

Try as I might, I cannot escape having to deal with the American obsession with Donald Trump, and the movement people label Trumpism. It’s all around me, everywhere I go.

I live in a community of Donald Trump supporters and try as I might,  there is no getting away with the preoccupation with him, with the hatred of him, with the love of him.

I am not about politics and hate the endless political Middle School name-calling and accusation, the new idea of contemporary politics I see all around me, and in our media.

What I feel personality is a deep crisis of spirituality, not a crisis of politics.

I see dealing with this well as a spiritual challenge for me, perhaps the greatest. How I deal with this challenge may well determine the nature of the rest of my life, and my long search for peace of mind.

I’m no good at hate, and I refuse to spend my life in argument and rage. I reject labels. Where does this put me in our fragmented and labeled world?

How do I maintain my spiritual sense of self in a time of escalating and overwhelming rhetoric, hate, and division? The spiritual life is loaded with questions, good answers are harder to come by.

My refusal to believe I have all of the answers puts me well outside of the mainstream. It’s sometimes a lonely place to be. I sometimes feel everyone is shouting, but I can’t open my mouth wide enough.

Last night, we had friends for dinner, and one of them said the problem was that elitists must stop branding supporters of the President as bigots and groupies. I thought that a good idea and said it would also be good if people would stop calling people like her uncaring elitists.

But there is no tit for tat, no yielding, no compromise, no giving.

Beyond all the names and labels are people, that’s why I feel so comfortable in my small town. These are all just people, mostly very good people. I don’t need to hate them, and I hope they have no need to hate me.

But how does that hatred and tension happen? Is it just politics or something deeper? I feel I need to understand that better before I can know how to respond to it.

Last week I had lunch with a friend who said almost all of the people he knows love the President. He doesn’t, but he has learned to simply not talk about politics anywhere outside of his home, a sad solution in a democracy.

The restaurant where we were having lunch was stuffed to the gills with Donald Trump supporters. Yet I could not be more welcome or comfortable there. At the moment of lunch, we were all quite united.

How is it we can get along so easily with one another face to face, yet the people who govern our country can’t seem to bear to even speak to one another. Is social media or the Internet? The death of faith? The loss of hope?

The Impeachment proceedings are another great and hateful wound in our world, you can reach out and touch it. I can’t turn on the radio anymore in the car, it’s always there.

They say it’s their civic duty to broadcast but it just feels like another viral infection to me.

I can’t tell anybody else what to do I, can only share what I have done and hope it might be useful. I seek a spiritual solution to what has become a deeply spiritual problem.

First, I refuse to hate anyone. And I never label anyone. It’s just another wall we built between one another.

Then, I decline to spend any significant portion of my time arguing.

Whenever I can, I ask people who differ with me to educate me, to tell me why they feel the way they feel, and why some feel so differently from me.

Here, I practice Active Listening, as I learned to do as a hospice volunteer. I’m not looking to fight with anyone or persuade anyone I want to put myself in their shoes, rather than condemn their shoes. I just want to listen.

I chose to give my life meaning, not by argument, suspicion or grievance, but by deed.

I choose to do good, every day of my life, in all kinds of weather, under all kinds of circumstances. Nothing has grounded me more or made me feel stronger and useful. That is my spiritual solution, it feels so much better than hate and resentment.

People who are unwanted feel wanted, people who are unloved seek love, people who are ignored or belittled feel resentful and abandoned. There’s nothing new about it, it’s really the oldest story on the plant.

My first newspaper editor told me on my first day of work that there is only one story in the world, and that is the rich screwing the poor, and the poor getting pissed off about it. I was soon to learn he was wise.

Mother Teresa, who has often criticized herself for being ruthless and rigid, caught the tenor or the time long before I did. She hit it right on the nose. Love brings people together, not an argument.

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for,” she wrote. “We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

First, I am learning to love myself, and then I can learn to love others. I feel I am making progress.

“Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends,” wrote the Poet Aberjhani.

I am daring to do that, I will cling to a spiritual response to the anger and fear swirling all around me. If we are to believe the much loved spiritual people in our history, love is what will prevail, this is what hope is.

9 December

Zinnia And Bud At Play. Put A Smile In Your Day

by Jon Katz

Bud and Zinnia would play all day given the chance, sometimes it’s irresistible to watch. I leave them alone for a half-hour in the morning otherwise, they can play all they want outside.

I don’t want Zinnia to learn to be aroused or cranked up in the house.

She needs to learn how to be calm and quiet, and mostly, she is.

Still, they are perfectly matched – gentle, playful and stubborn.

My Lab training theory is to flood the house with chew toys, so the dog has better things to chew on than my socks.

And it’s working. Zinnia pays no attention to our shoes or socks or sofa pillows, she has plenty of stuff around to chew or steal from Bud.

And no ball chasing in the house at all. I’ve seen too many Labs turned into obsessive and annoying animals because people over-stimulate them.  This breed needs to learn how to chill.

It’s a balancing act, but something to be mindful of.

When I put a leash on Zinnia (which I do if they get too cranked up) she just lies down and goes to sleep. I’m teaching her to do nothing, something she doesn’t know how to do.

I did a short two-minute video of these two doing their morning thing. They are fun to watch. Come and see.

9 December

Fate And Zinnia: The Annals Of Acceptance

by Jon Katz

Dogs are fascinating creatures to me, they are quite different and although we like to think we know what is going on in their heads, most of the time we don’t, or at least I don’t.

They work things out in their own way, left alone.

Fate is a complex creature, she adores people but doesn’t adore most dogs, at least not up close. Bud’s arrival unhinged her for months, and Zinnia’s is worse for her, because she is a confident intrusive creature, unlike Bud, who is quiet and deferential to her.

Fate snarls ever time Zinnia gets close and rejects every invitation to play with her.

Zinnia’s response is to try harder, Labs don’t give up on love.  I remember Lenore charming the ferocious Frieda, and just ignoring her growls and snarls until they stopped.

But there are signs that Fate, who is not, by nature, tolerant of puppies or most dogs, is accepting Zinnia just as she accepted Bud.

One clear sign was last night when Fate let Zinnia lie down right next to her and put her paw on her back.  Up until now, Fate would just get up and move, disgusted by this intrusive little monster.

Last night was a touching, even poignant thing to see. It may take a while, but Fate, like Bud, has a playful and fun streak in her, Zinnia will get it out of her, for sure.

She just doesn’t take no for an answer. She loves Fate more than Fate resents here, and love is winning out, as it often does.

8 December

Zinnia And The Power Of The White Spirit Animals

by Jon Katz

For centuries, the appearance of a white animal has been seen as an indication of a new era of peace, compassion and restored balance.

From ancient times, white animals have been seen as sacred, as representing purity, spiritual fulfillment, and attainment.

And yes, Zinnia is a white animal.

Several members of the Lakota Nation, who have stayed in touch with me since my writing about the New York Carriage Horses, have written me to point out that Zinnia is a white animal, and white animals are held as powerful symbols and spirits by many cultures, including theirs.

Each of the white animals, they believe, belongs to a species at the apex of their ecosystem, and that the environment in which they live will unravel and vanish without them. They believe white animals are a call to humanity to restore love and balance to the world and to heal the earth.

I am not comfortable turning a Labrador puppy into a deity, she is just a dog.

I called Sue Silverstein, a friend and teacher of theology at Bishop Maginn High and asked about Zinnia and her place in white animal lore. Sue has her feet on the ground.

I trust her and listen to her.

“Absolutely,” she said of Zinnia’s white animal identity, “she is a joy magnet. She brings joy, peace, and happiness to everyone she meets. You absolutely cannot look at her and not feel better.”

But this is true of many puppies, I countered. “Yes, but there is something very special about her,” she said.

I am by nature skeptical of such claims, but I am very touched by the effect Zinnia has had on scores of people already. There is a kind of power and symbolism coming off of this dog, and I am sure other dogs as well.

I am listening to what I don’t know and can’t understand, and trying to understand.

I brought Zinnia to Jean’s Place, a magnet for the hard-working, not very well off people of a poor and struggling town. When I saw these people grin and laugh and light up at the sight of her, I knew I was seeing something special.

I feel the Circle Of Love is a vision, and that it is coming to pass all around us, and Zinnia is a part of it. I’ve seen this in my own life since 2016 and this feeling is growing deeper and wider every day. I believe we are entering a new era of promise, not an evil one of greed and rage.

I’ve been reading a lot about white animals this weekend, and everywhere I see them described as prophets of change.

Many of us are weary of the eternal arguments, the hateful assaults on innocent people, the greed of corporations, the fecklessness of elected officials. We are not waiting for the world to turn around, we are not lost in the argument.

We are praying for change.

We are doing good every day. So are many millions of others. We are awakened.

Zinnia is full of love and joy, and I see that this is what people want, above all things, especially above politics.

Native Americans and ancient mystics believed white dogs were sacred, along with white wolves and white buffalo calves. White Star lions of South Africa were also considered sacred, so were white “Ghost Bears” in British Columbia.

White elephants in India, Thailand, and Myanmar are worshipped,  considered powerful symbols of purity and love, as are White Peacocks.

I wrote yesterday of my vision to create a Circle Of Love around Zinnia as she moves forth with her mission to make people smile,  and be an ambassador for joy, a task she has already undertaken with great zeal.

About 30 members of the Army of Good – you don’t have to live here to help Zinnia for this circle – have messaged me and offered to be Zinnia’s other Godmothers. Two men offered to be Zinnia’s Godfathers, men are quite welcome.

The only requirement to join this circle is to have a great heart. To that end, Sue Silverstein became a Zinnia Godmother, so has Robin, our friend, and a waitress at Jean’s Place. She has an enormous heart.

So does Maria, and I asked her if she would support the Circle of Life by also becoming a Godmother (which she already sort of is, of course) and she said she would be happy to support this idea, she loves it.

The thought of these three strong and loving women lifts me up and warms my heart. Something important is happening.

As I wrote yesterday, I believe an enormous Circle Of Love – and empathy and compassion – has grown up in our country since the presidential election in 2016. Hundreds are in the Army Of Good, other people are doing thousands of other things.

It is not discussed much by the people who argue day and night in their New York and Washington TV studios, but I see this Circle Of Love every day, and it is growing and deepening in its commitment to empathy and compassion.

This circle will make itself felt, I am certain of it. This Circle Of Love is off to a great start with three wonderful people of great heart eager to be Zinnia’s nearby Godmothers and many more around the country offering to help, sending light and good energy this way.

I don’t have the answers to these deep and meaningful questions. I want my dog to be a happy dog.

But I  like what Sue Silverstein said about Zinnia. It is impossible to be around her without feeling better.

What a gift that is.


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