Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

21 March

Down And Down. My Peaceful Place

by Jon Katz

(Maria sitting at the Vernal Equinox bonfire at the farm last night, celebrating the coming of Spring.)

It’s odd for me to be teaching a meditation class, I always sought teachers when it came to meditating, I have never thought of myself as one. Yet I’ve been meditating on and off for 20 years, and you don’t really need a permit or degree. I’ve learned a lot, I was just self-absorbed to see it.

I’m delighted to have a chance to pass along to the Mansion residents some of the things along that I have learned. Meditation has shaped and enriched my life and understanding of myself.

I teach things like how to breathe, and when to let go, and how not to judge myself, and how to come back to a peaceful place when my mind crosses the border and runs around like baby rabbit being chased by a cat.

Several of my meditation teachers have told me that we all have a peaceful place, and that the beauty of meditation is that we can find it if we look and listen. We don’t have to go anywhere.

I have found this to be true.

I told my first meditation students, Mansion residents much older than I am, that I know they need a peaceful place, their lives are full of challenge and discomfort and illness and fear.

We all have a safe and peaceful place inside of us, we really don’t have to search far and wide for it. I close my eyes, think of my breath. In my mind I am on elevator, going down and down.

I feel that every floor on the way down opens to a failure, a hurt, a fear, a mistake, a resentment in my life. No wonder it took so long. I didn’t want to stop at any of them.

The elevator takes a long time, I pass many different kinds of sounds and smells. My eyes are closed, I am listening.

After awhile, the doors open, and I open my eyes, and I am deep inside of myself, a quiet place full of echoes and sweet sounds – rustling leaves, gardens, running stream, wolves howling, I can even hear the flowers growing and unfurling.

In my peaceful place – I have to be alone – there is no anger, no fear, no past, no future – just now, just the moment, just the present. I float in this place, like a kid in a stream lying on his back. The kid is me.

The peaceful place is my secret, my respite, my sanctuary. It gives me strength and soothes me, and then when I am ready, I get back in the elevator and rise up and up and into the world.

And when I step out, I am calm, I am at peace.

That, I said to my students, was my meditation today. I found my peaceful place.  And then, I saw that their eyes were all closed and it was still.

Thank you for teaching us, said Sylvie. My heart swelled with pride.

21 March

The Thing About Capitalism

by Jon Katz

I love my country, but I always have understood it to be arrogant and insular. Other countries can ban murderous military weapons in a couple of days if they think it will save some lives, we can’t even talk about it. Other countries understand our joint obligation to save the world, we blew off science once it seemed it would reduce corporate profits.

Whenever I go to visit Brooklyn, I am amazed at this old American story. Growth can never be controlled, only enabled. Profit and loss comes before any other value, God, the Earth, our common civic system. Socialism is an unspeakable evil even as we steadily tumble from our position as the best and most respected country on the top of the world.

If the economy is good, we are good. That is all that really matters, In Brooklyn, this brutal and almost frightening thing is happening, and there is very little fuss being made of it. The character and scope of the place is being overwhelmed by giant and condo and office towers, some more than 70 stories high.

Tens of thousands of people are being driven from their homes and apartments by rising rents and properties being knocked down for more condos. Visiting the city, walking around, I thought wow, good riddance to Amazon. Do we really need any more of this.

Everywhere I went and looked there were cranes, blocked off streets, massive traffic jams, monstrous crates rising to the sky, the deafening sound of tractors and jack hammers.

My heart sank, the ground shook, the sandwiches in the gleaming new deli cost $18, day care for two-year olds in the best schools cost nearly $40,000 a year. The schools get out at 3 p.m. After day care until 5 and 6, which is when most people there are still working, is extra.

Is there any such thing any longer as enough money? Does one family – the Waltons –  really need to own 40 per cent of the country’s wealth?  Can they even spend all that money, which would send every young student in the country to college for free.

How many skyscrapers are enough in a place that was once two or three stories high and full of people and shops, now full of condos and malls?

Karl Marx, someone I rarely have occasion to quote, wrote that the thing about capitalism is that the greedy people never fill their bellies, are never rich enough. And if they aren’t contained and knocked down once in a while, they will devour themselves and us.

I stood on a corner in Brooklyn as the sun rose over the mushrooming towers. Wow, I thought, this is a kind of brutality on a scale that is unimaginable to me.

And we hate socialism, it is a taboo and heresy because it can’t possibly work for people?

For me, it’s not about politics. They really are all the same. It’s about money, just like my first boss, Robert Ebener told me on my first day as a reporter: kid, he said, you’ll learn soon enough that there is really only one story in the world, and you will cover it again and again: the rich always screw the poor.

That’s what I see in Brooklyn. The greedy people just get greedier and hungrier, and as I walked the streets there, I thought, wow, they are devouring themselves, and us.

21 March

Word Finding At The Mansion. The Chronicles Of Aging

by Jon Katz

When I first began my work at the Mansion with Red, I noticed that the residents would often pause – hesitate – before they spoke to me or answered my questions.

I am a fast talker and this puzzled me. I wasn’t sure if there was a hearing problem or some other confusion. In meditation class last week, I asked the students to talk about aging and how it has affected them, something I realized I had rarely, if ever, heard them talk about.

I got used to it, but never actually asked about it or talked about it. Until recently.

M – who is past 90, answered me. She gave me permission to record her answer, which began slowly, but picked up steam as she went along.

I feel aging most in my body, that’s where I first saw the difference. I can’t walk up too many stairs and I have to hold onto railings when I do go on stairs.

But mostly, I feel it mentally. I have to search for the words I want, for the things I want to say. It doesn’t just come right out any more, like  your words do. I call it Word Finding. Almost all of  us have trouble Word Finding. I can’t remember things, I can’t remember names, but I can mostly remember faces. I keep starting sentences, but I  hesitate, stop a lot, because I’m afraid I’ll get stuck. Sometimes, if I have time, I can remember the name or the place, but sometimes I can’t, and I just feel like a fish, my mouth open, nothing coming out. I read that the part of the brain that governs memory is one of the first things to go in older people.

Sometimes, the conversations of other people get jumbled, I can’t follow them, I just nod like I understand. Now, there are times where I just don’t say much, I just listen, it’s just safer. People must think I’m dumb. People talk about Alzheimer’s, but most of the time, it’s just aging.

I will be honest with you, I’ve seen you around her hundreds of times, you and your dog. I’ve talked to you I don’t know how many times. I don’t remember your name or the name of your beautiful dogs. I can still tell you the name of every dog I ever owned.

Isn’t that a strange thing?

I get up to go get something, but by the time I get across the room I forget what it is, I write it down if there’s a pen handy so I won’t forget it. Sometimes it comes back to me, sometimes it’s just gone. The other thing is balance, I don’t have good balance any more…people fall here all the time, that’s how most of us get to die.”

  She told me aging was about losing things we all once took for granted. Climbing. Walking. Talking. She described a world of constantly shrinking dimensions. You can’t see clearly enough to read,  you can’t hear clearly enough to listen, you can’t remember clearly enough to talk.

In my head, I am young and busy and full of life, my body has another story to tell.

I thanked M for her explanation of aging and Word Finding. That phrase – Word Finding – stuck in my mind. As a writer, it has special meaning for me. Words flow out of me like water pouring down a drain, and I better understand the conversations I have been having at the Mansion.

Is there anything in my life I take more for granted than finding words? How isolating and disconnecting that would be for me, and is for others.

The Mansion has taught me to be patient. The Mansion has taught me to be clear. The Mansion has taught me to be grateful for every word that comes out of my mouth, or onto the blog, or into my books.

(If you wish to contribute to the Mansion work, you can do so via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. It’s Spring, I have work to do. You can also contribute by check, Jon Katz, Mansion Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.) And thank you. The Army Of Good is good.

21 March

Red At Work, Spring. Per Your Requests, It’s For Sale

by Jon Katz

My rule is I only sell photographs that I think are special, or that a dozen or more people ask me to sell. I know this doesn’t mean a dozen people can or will purchase the photo – I understand it’s a complex choice for many – but it tells me there is interest, and that’s good enough for me.

The photo is called Red At Work, Spring. It captures Red doing what he so loves, watching over the sheep, over the farm, over me.

Red is much-loved, I’ve learned that, and I may print this one out myself.  It touches my heart to see his fidelity to work and responsibility, he is all love and heart.

I got a lot of requests for this photo, it will be up on sale later tonight  (Thursday) on Maria’s Etsy Shop pages. It costs $125 plus $6 shipping, unframed and signed, 8.5 x 12.5, Fine Art Print, Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 100 per cent cotton acid free paper, archival ink.

People who prefer to write checks ors to not pay online or use  can contact Maria directly, she is maria@fullmoonfiberart.com.

Red is an extraordinary creature, he has done so much for people in his life. Karen Thompson saw this gift in him and asked me to take  him and give him the life he deserved. I think I’ve done that, I hope I have.

Thanks for loving Red. I know he is not only my dog, he belongs to many people.

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