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Earlier this month (was it last week? or two? Autumn always seems to operate in a temporal realm outside of other seasons) I attended a two-day workshop on the process of Compassionate Listening. It took place on Bainbridge Island, which demanded a ferry ride through a grey and dreary dawn each morning, and one home again at night; I’m not sure how much this intimation of a passage to an otherworld contributed to the power of the weekend, but it felt–nay, it was–transformative.

I love listening. I’ve never felt particularly good at it, for many reasons: my mind, like anyone else’s, is too frustratingly quick for the pace of speech; I’m too eager to seize the voice of my partner and drag it deeply inward; the merest hint of welcoming eyes too easily calls me out of my own self, just as the merest hint of pain in another evokes an unquenchable upwelling in response; and on and on and on. Still, there’s nothing like–for me–using the gift of one’s attention to open a space into which another can pour themselves.

It’s hard to talk about, and even harder to practice, this strange working with qualities we all have some felt-sense of, but so few words for. There is attention–a curiosity unto itself, which we seem to take for granted until it goes wrong–and there is the strange experience of voice, and speaking–this expression that comes from nothing and moves to nothing–and when these two are engaged consciously there is an alchemy between them that I can only describe as sacred.

The workshop itself was familiar in shape and construction, an easy blend of theory and background, practice and participation, and was all the more lovely for the variety of participants it drew–mediators and counselors, lawyers and politicians, students and retirees–as it was for the topics and teaching it provided. And I’ve no doubt it was their presence that helped contribute to the transformation I mentioned above.

I don’t like the word transformation, just as I don’t like the word change. To me it’s near-meaningless; the world itself is and continues to create itself in a constant state of flow, and could no more be frozen than a living human being could prevent the pulse and growing and failing and dying of his or her cells. I don’t like the word transformation, but sometimes change is accompanied by a qualitative shift, and there, I think it must apply. And that weekend offered, at least to me, the sort of circled magic that not just shifted strangers to friends, but emptiness to insight, and voice to realization, and attention to something like grace.

I’ll be attending the Annual Gathering of the Compassionate Listening Project (the organization that hosted the training) next week, and the extent to which I’m looking forward to engaging again in the circles of the organic Open Space structure it’ll be flowing through is a little like that accompanying the upcoming visit of an absent lover.


We watched Polanski’s THE PIANIST last night.

I watched the film obsessively when it first came out, but had no memory at all of the plot; back then I was in a state of such cruel and abject starvation that my whole psyche was taken over by hunger and restraint, and the scenes of Spizlman–by then a skeletal, dull-eyed being of only bone and skin–reduced to a baser animal state by the same crippling force, stumbling through the later scenes was, at the time, overwhelmingly fascinating to whatever conscious shreds of myself remained. I’m not sure why. Regardless, it was strange to screen it from a healthier state, and to remember the fact of my earlier preoccupation without–no matter how hard I try–being able to tap into the subjective.

I get shy about saying this. THE PIANIST is, after all, a film about the
Holocaust, and the torture and genocide one group inflicted upon an innocent
other. My demons were internal, my suffering my selfish own; the fact that the senseless evil portrayed in that film I only relate to via an even shallower evil in myself is embarrassing.

Still, it is humbling how tenuous our humanity is, and how tragically simple it is to shut down that diaphanous portion of being that connects us to some greater and glorious social reality. It might be sick to say but I am glad for having experienced that diminishing–and for having been, as a result, humbled–if bewildered that I cannot remember it subjectively, or first-hand. Of course this makes sense, at least in theory; my ‘I’ had been wholly devoured. Still, it is unnerving to remember, and, even more, to report.

I am not sure why I’m sharing this, aside from that last night was disconcerting, and because I want to reclaim something from those years. Perhaps sharing is the wrong word.

I will never understand myself, much less the world.


I loved Natalie‘s October 13th post as well. Here’s an abbreviation of mine, though I have not been anywhere long enough, recently, for “typical” to be an accurate descriptor.

Today I woke up early–six or so–and lay in bed besides M’s quiet breathing until my mind grew restless. Not wanting to disturb him (here we have only a one-room loft; though it’s a beautiful place, with high ceilings and exposed brick walls, it’s small enough that self-awareness for either of us now necessarily embraces two), I found a set of headphones, attached them to the laughably small chip of an mp3 player, and indulged in a few downloaded radio interviews, dreamily losing myself in the stories and voices of others until the qualmless sun rose high enough to rouse my sleeping lover, and I traded my first mental distraction for a far more effective–and full-bodied–one.

After a hasty shower came the second breakfast of the day. Perched on my usual barstool in the kitchen, I peeled a mango and spooned out generous servings of thick Greek yogurt and ate both (methodically, but taking pleasure in each measured bite–even today I find myself strangely prone to ritual around food) as the oatmeal cooked, then cooled.

M walked down to a local cafe to order us both our usual coffees while I dried my hair and finished dressing (tailored white shirt; charcoal wool slacks with silk lining; black city boots with too much of a heel; hip-length camel trench coat). I locked up and walked the two short blocks to meet him. It was sunny out, and cold; my coffee, still warm, was waiting.

From there M left on a business errand and I headed back home to catch up on our email and phone messages. I answered only the more pressing–there was one waiting with good news about another set of tenants; my sister had written; there was news from a few schools; two e-bills needed to be paid–but took comfort in each minor necessity. I checked the ferry schedule for a trip we we’d planned to make that afternoon (picking up an eBay purchase on the island), called M to confirm the time, and an hour later met him by the pier.

The ride over, I learned, took another hour. I’d brought a book and after a few minutes on the prow of the boat I grew chilled and retreated inside to read. A hasty exchange on the far side, and we were left to await the return trip–a long wait, I found, as the next one wasn’t scheduled until the evening. Carless but unable to wander due to the monstrous piece of equipment we’d gone there to retrieve, we sat by the shore and talked while the gulls arced overhead and the colors of the afternoon sank to saturate the sea. I timed my breathing with the hushing of the waves until it seemed the opposite were true, and that instead the ocean itself was sighing for me.

By the time the ferry arrived I was ready again to lose myself, again, in the story that had carried me over. (It was Franzen’s Freedom, a work I’m finding both unpleasant and enjoyable, sort of the literary equivalent of mediocre sex with an attractive conquest. I’ll finish it, though. Too late to stop now.) I curled up in a booth with my book, back against M’s own warm and solid back, until the boat slowed and the tale of our disembarking proved more interesting.

It was dark by the time we reached the mainland. I’d gone shopping at the local Asian market the day before and we had sea bass steaks waiting in the refrigerator; fifteen minutes later and a dinner of fish (with preserved lemons and kale and an abundance of mushrooms in a light sake-based sauce) was done.

I cleaned up afterward while M used the opportunity to test of one of the more frightful blades of his Dremel on two unbroken geodes plucked from a recent store. The result was less gratifying than it was miraculous–hidden within each of the mundane stones is a glittering universe.

As I write this, they are sitting beside me; the amazement is still fresh in my mind.


I have never written much about place. I love the world but feel in it a perpetual nomad–to me the line┬áno place like home has always favored the less obvious of its ambiguities–and feel, in it, somehow apart.

These days I am living mere blocks from the ocean. I hear gulls screaming in the morning, above the sounds of the sidewalks and streets; the air carries on it the sexual scent of sea. Those mere blocks are so clogged with cars and the obstinate press of the city that I sometimes forget its proximity, the pulse of humanity more immediate, or clamoring, than the ocean’s quiet pull, but this morning I walked in the opposite direction of my usual path, and ended up wandering on and on down the pier.

The water called me out of myself, and called forth the brine of tears–was it a saline sorrow, or joy? It was startling to see the reaction of this animal body, and after an hour–perhaps more–I came home in a state of grateful dismay. The city seems to cause or encourage me to burrow inward, my psyche worming down from the clamor and the overwhelm of a myriad of subjectivities, and I have loved it for this. But there are other routes away from this pressure, and I have ignored them.

I want to listen more to the language of the water, and the waves. The nuanced articulation of their lapping at the shore (for how many eons now have they been practicing that song?) makes my own tongue sound like babbling nonsense. I want to spend more time wandering outside, instead of within. I want to realize that loving the whole of the globe does not preclude having a stake in a small piece of it, to realize that in truth the world is starved for such particular loves.


Why write? Why anything at all, for that matter?

“Real life is meeting,” came one answer, whispering from Martin Buber through Harper’s On Presence and finally flowing from Beth’s fingers (fingers on a hand I suddenly see before me, marked with charcoal and time, an artist’s hand well-versed in coaxing matter from emptiness, and more) to rest on the pages below. “Real life is meeting.” I try the words on my own tongue, and finding in them the tension of paradox, taste truth.

“Real life is meeting.”

For meeting to be, there must be separation; we must be unconnected for a meeting to occur. And the more nearly irrevocable this distance, the greater the span crossed, the more profound the touch when it finally occurs. Why write? To live, and to do so deeply–why else?

More and more I am finding only cycles, or, rather, finding myself spinning within them. Buber’s meeting necessitates separation, but to wonder whether it is that we then meet for the purposes of parting, or that we leave only because leaving is a first step to the searing pleasure of return, is as absurd a question as whether night happens to allow the day, or day to afford the night. It is a process as inexorable as the tides, and as unanswerable: we dive within only to return; we exhale only to breath deeply inwards yet again. Reality is rhythm; what else is there to do but waltz?

I have been hunting the elusive beast of truth for lifetimes, and these days its impenetrable hide is so thickly feathered with desperate arrows of ‘why’ as to render the creature almost unrecognizable. It laughs at me and dances onward. I have learned that where it steps it leaves only impossible tracks. I follow. I am worried not that some final arrow will slay it, no, but that, so feathered, it might soar into the air, and fly.


I’ve been asking myself what I want from this site, and why. It’s remained up, despite weeks and then months of negligence, patiently awaiting… what? A crisis? A calling? I want to write again but insecurity demands a reason. Tragic, perhaps, but true.

So I’ve wondered, sometimes, whether I ought just commit to a focus, pick a practice, perhaps launch one of those commercially-transparent “The ‘Blank’ Projects” with an eye toward developing a name, a readership, a book deal, a well-defined owned space in the collective conceptual consciousness, and immediately fast-forward into disillusion. So no, not that.

I miss participating, though. I miss the ongoing meditative conversation with a certain literary world, one more relaxed and lovely than more newer online technologies provide. I miss the richness.

What prompted this post was a discussion about this very medium, and about the twin tines of the technology it represents–the ways in which our tools separate and connect us both, and the ways in which they can both expand our attention globally while pulling it from an as-important focus on he more immediat local. In theory I love both, and want all; in reality I must confess I use the former to escape the latter, and vice versa.

Escape aside, though, I realize it’s a gift, in some ways, and a luxury, to have the option and the tension of both. When my mundane day-to-day feels lacking, or dull and without redemption, I love being able to turn to some larger sphere, to offer up the crumbs of a place-based experiencing to the mosaic of a larger incomprehensible whole. And when that whole–when the clamoring voices and human babblings–feels too much like some chaotic abstract, I love in turn being able to sink into the texture of the present moment, and to bring the larger context deep within.

Perhaps the tracing of those sine waves is enough; perhaps the cycling of those patterns, and the ability to honor and dance between them, is worth more than I’d admit myself to allow. I keep wanting finalities and givens, absolutes and answers, when the reality–and the future–lies is what is open and undetermined and flowing. (I don’t know why I feel the need to keep reminding myself. Shouldn’t once be enough?)

This is too abstract, though. The truth is, I am listening to a symphony of rain at midnight. The truth is, you are reading this at some other hour, in some other storm. THe truth is that depth is found in neither one nor the other, but in the holding, and the wholing, of both.

What do I want from this? Conversation. Connection. Committment. A return.