Bedlam Farm Blog Journal by Jon Katz

18 July

Love The World. Work For Nothing…

by Jon Katz

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
anymore. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.”

– Wendell  Berry

17 July

Chronicles Of Acceptance: The Sacred Pause

by Jon Katz

I remember walking down a path in the woods at the first Bedlam Farm eight or nine years ago,  I was struck by a wave of terror and confusion so great that it took my breath away and almost knocked me to the ground.

I started to reach for some pills I had been given to calm me, I had broken down.

But something told me to put them back in my pocket. I didn’t want to take any more pills.

I thought of the Sacred Pause, and stopped and, and closed my eyes and took some deep breaths, and as I had been taught, exhaled my panic and disconnection and loss of perspective.

I don’t recall how long I paused, but I do remember that when I opened my eyes, I was calm, even confident that I could survive another day and live to find the life I was meant to live.

It was a moment of wonder, an awakening, a miracle to me.

I remember that I had just read an essay, it might have been by Thomas Merton, about what he called the Sacred Pause.

I first encountered this idea in St. Augustine’s the City Of God, and then again, in the Kabbalah. The mystics embraced the idea of pausing and important times all through the day.

It was a timeless idea. It slowed and deepened the chaotic world.

When he was frightened or angry or frantic or lost, Merton said, he would simply pause and turn inward, and stand in the present, leaving the past and the future behind.

He would pause for a minute or two, or an hour, or even much longer,  and then return to the issue pre-occupying him and taking over his consciousness. He found that he always felt differently afterward.

Less frightened, less angry, less spent, clearer of mind. At peace.

The Sacred Pause, I had learned, was a spiritual as well as a clinical psychological term for pausing at different points and times of life. It came up in my therapy a number of times. It sparked my long trek towards acceptance, of me, of my life.

Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance,” said an article in Psychology Today in 2012, ” a pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life.”

Tara Brach, the author of the book Radical Acceptance, wrote that pausing is the gateway to Radical Acceptance. “In the midst of a pause, we are giving room and attention to the life that is always streaming through us, the life that is habitually overlooked….rather than running away, we need only commit ourselves to arriving, here and now, with wholehearted presence.”

My animals have always shown me the Sacred Pause and taught it to me. It is one of the things animals can give us if we pay attention to them. I often see the donkeys, dogs, even the chickens, pausing in their pursuit of food or shelter, they seem to stop and turn inward and ground themselves.

To me, they are reminding themselves of who they are and what is important to them. I rarely took the time to do that.

This is what I have learned and am learning to do, and the Sacred Pause has become one of the most powerful and important tools that I have learned to use.

The other morning, I woke up in a panic about my $4,000 dental bill, I just couldn’t imagine how I might pay it.

These night demons are a legacy of my childhood bedwetting is panicked awakenings in the middle night, where my worst fears bubble up like so seething volcano and cover me in sweat and fear and shivers.

I sat up and I paused, I took a deep breath and left the future alone, and the past behind me, and simply reconnected with the qualities of presence, wisdom, and love inside of me, as monks and priests have done for centuries.

When I came back to myself, I was no longer frightened, I understood that I would pay this debt over time and live my life as I am doing and wish to do. I was calm. Out of the pause, I had confidence and clarity, I have handled much worse, and many times.

Some months ago, I was carrying a grudge against a long-time friend who had lied to me, again and again, and betrayed our friendship. I felt this anger rising in me and focused on the sensations in my body and mind, and stepped out of myself and paused.

I just allowed, just for the moment, what was happening inside of me. I accepted it rather than fight it and considered it from a distance as I might consider a hawk soaring in the sky.

When I find myself angry or discouraged or overwhelmed or disconnected, I pause.

Mostly, I pause for a few seconds, I observe the flow of my breath. Every time, I become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence, and I am reminded that my worries and preoccupations are a speck, a splatter on the windshield of the universe.

I pause while sitting, standing, driving, taking a walk, even writing, certainly while taking a photograph or shoveling manure out of the barn. Sometimes I pause at night, in bed.

I paused just before writing this essay.

Tara Brach calls this process “beginning your life fresh at that moment by pausing, relaxing and paying attention to your immediate experience.”

One writer described the Sacred Pause as a simple way to step into daily magic, I find that is close to my experience.

The sacred pause is the time when I remember my humble and very small place in life. I notice the wonder of the world and get back in touch with myself, set myself straight. In the sacred pause, I encounter moments of wonder, and I feel my fear and anger shrink almost to invisibility, dwarfed by the far greater awareness of the world around me.

But I think the most beautiful description of the Sacred Pause came from the Irish Poet John O’Donohue, during an interview:

Wisdom is the art of living in rhythm with your soul, your life, and with the Divine…Wisdom is the way you learn to decipher the unknown, which is our closest companion.”

17 July

Red’s Farewell Tour: Is It Right, Or Is It Maudlin?

by Jon Katz

As some of you know, I wrote often about my need to avoid the emotionalizing and extreme grief that often comes with loving a dog.

I don’t want that to be my experience, having a dog is a joy and privilege to me and I won’t make it a misery, I owe that to Red. He deserves more than that, his life is one worth celebrating.

That doesn’t mean I’m not sad when a dog dies, when Red dies it will leave a big hole in me and my life, for sure.

So I’m trying to deal with his illness and impending death in a rational and caring way, for him, for me and Maria, for the many people who love him.

This is a balancing act, for sure, and sometimes I feel like a hypocrite. Normally, I just say goodbye to dogs and move on.

With Red, it’s not so simple. I thought of this today when I took him to Albany, an hour away, to say another goodbye. His life was always entwined with the lives of other people, from Karen Thompson to the Mansion residents to the Bishop Maginn refugee students.

I brought Red to the Bishop Magin High School today, he is much loved there, and it’s becoming impossible for him to travel now – he can’t see or get in and out of a car by himself – so I’m taking him around to say goodbye, even though he may be around a good while longer.

We’ve been to a doctor’s office, to the dentist, to the Mansion (he might go back there once in a while) and today, to Albany, for his last visit to Sue Silverstein, who calls him “my dog,” and her renegade band of wonderful young refugee artists.

This kind of farewell tour is just too much of a trip for him to be taking as he declines.

There are three or four other places I would like to take him, to some friends who say they loved him, to a former petsitter who stormed off in a huff because I hired someone else to help out on the farm for a few days.

If she loves Red as much as she claimed, I ought to give her the chance to say goodbye. I’ll have to think about that.

I’m a little queasy about this farewell tour, it seems dramatic, even maudlin to me at times. The decision to take this tour is one of those moral decisions I write about, but I think it’s something that it is good to do, and that I ought to do.

But how could one really be comfortable with it?

Red is not just my dog, thanks to my writing and his nature, he belongs to a lot of people. I feel a responsibility to let him say goodbye to them, and them to him. It seems callous of me for him to simply disappear from the world one day – this will happen – while he’s still able to say goodbye.

I don’t want to be parading him around while he’s sick, and I am allergic to drama, I’ve had too much of it in my life.

I wondered about taking him to Albany today. But it worked out. Despite the heat and the humidity, I helped him get up into the car, and he made it down the shiny floors into Sue Silverstein’s room. It was a good thing to do, especially with children.

There, Sue and her students took out a mat for him, as they usually do, plied him with biscuits, pats,  and hugs. They are coming to the farm in a couple of weeks (we pushed it back because of the heat.

On this farewell tour, there has been no drama. No tears, no intense emotionalizing, people are considerate, affectionate and appropriate. The dictionary definition of maudlin is to be “weakly and effusively” sentimental.

This doesn’t feel like that to me, just the opposite. It helps me to deal with his illness and loss in a measured, step-by-step way, and it fulfills my responsibility to others.  But it isn’t easy either.

Just a few more visits to go, then nothing for him but peace.

17 July

Blue And “The Emotions Of Life”: For Sale

by Jon Katz

It’s a great joy to watch Blue, the young artist refugee student at Bishop Maginn High School, deepen and develop, from her style to her confidence to the backgrounds and emotions.

Her latest work is called “The Emotions Of Life,” and it is just that, her own representations of Happiness, Sadness, Anger, and Fear. This work is for sale for $40, plus $6 shipping.

Blue is intense and open, she has trouble sleeping and is fascinated by astrology and stars. She is very much an individual and thinks a lot about emotions. I’ve brought her several astrology books, and this is her focus right now, although this painting goes beyond the stars and ventures more into her own psyche.

This is her first painting that isn’t an astrology sign or symbol. If you wish to buy this painting, please e-mail me at jon@bedlamfarm.com (I’m not on Facebook all day, so you can’t buy it there). It’s first-come, first- serve.

Blue is a refugee from Myanmar, her family was driven from their home, and she lived for years in a U.N.refugee camp. She is now a senior at Bishop Maginn High School.

The painting is 11″ x 14.” jon@bedlamfarm.com. And thanks.

There is a new Bishop Maginn High School Amazon Wish List, it has 12 items, the cheapest being $4.76, the most expensive are two Rawlins Basketballs, they are $59.95. Sue Silverstein says the reason they are on the Wish List is that “We don’t have any that are not old. When the kids from the after school program come they bring their own and they are only little kids!” I hope we can help with that.

17 July

Off To Albany

by Jon Katz

I’m off to Albany today to visit Bishop Maginn High School and talk with Principal Mike Tolan and hang out with Sue Silverstein and her Art Brigade. I have books for  Blue, Issachar and Asher, pens for the class.

We’re going to meet about a new tuition fund ($200 gets a kid in the door), and replenish the Bishop Maginn Amazon Wish List, which just sold out for the third time.

Thanks to you, every new student will have a backpack,  pens and pencils,  and notebooks.

I’m picking up new paintings to sell, including the very beautiful Stepping Stones that was offered for sale late last night for $200, it’s by Sue Silverstein herself. I’ll be talking to the refugee students about what they need, thanks to the Army Of Good.

We’re going to put up some more $10 and $25 gift cards on the wish list, along with some other needed school supplies. Thanks for supporting this list. More later.

Red is coming along, might be his last visit, traveling is getting difficult for him.

Above, “Stepping Stones,” by Sue Silverstein, for sale, $200 18 x 24, if anyone is interested, contact me, jon@bedlamfarm.com. E-mailing me is the only way to purchase a painting, it’s first come, first serve.

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