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HOW TO LIVE WISDOM

HOW TO LIVE WISDOM

In 2011, a video of a kid speechifying after learning to ride a bike went viral.  His dad “interviewed” him after his accomplishment, asking him whether he had any “words of wisdom” for all the other kids who wanted to ride a bike.

Thumbs up everybody…for rock ‘n roll!” à la the rock group KTN (Kill the Noise) the little boy says, and the world laughed.

The video above is the “Original,” according to the YouTube posting.  Copies and parodies proliferated for a while.

I thought on all the sometimes-marvelous, oftentimes moving sermons and speeches and lectures and blogs and videos and books and courses and such put out by assorted and varied people.

It seems to me that if you know how to play with words, work your voice, and move your body with conviction and sincerity radiating out of your every pore, it’s not that hard to come up with stuff that at least gets people on their feet and cheering, rarin’ to go off and conquer the world.

There are even courses that will teach you how to induce that effect on other people, and on yourself, I suppose.

The problem is the word-induced enthusiasms and zeal sort of fade away when those people in the audience go back to their ordinary, regular lives.

The fervor and the fire dies down, drowning in the wake of the unending same-old.  The audience members come down off the high and it all turns to meh again.

Wisdom words seem to have a short shelf life.

The viral video made us laugh at ourselves because we know that space, all of us.

IF YOU REALLY WANT TO INSPIRE “THE MASSES”

Master Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson once said, “What is respected by the masses is action; you can inspire someone for a day with your words, but you can inspire someone for a lifetime by what you do.”

And that’s a truth.  Thompson lives it.

He is famed as the first Native Hawaiian in 600 years to practice the ancient Hawaiian art of navigation on long distance ocean voyages using only the stars, the wind and the waves, the flight of birds and the power of focused intent.

It has been his life-work to guide the Hōkūle’a, (“Star of Gladness” or Arcturus), a modern-day iteration of the double-hulled sailing canoes used by the ancients to sail across the Paciific.

Nainoa has also helped to further the work of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a nonprofit research and education organization that grew out of the effort to build the canoe and to sail her.

[For more information about the Polynesian Voyaging Society, click on the button below.]

click-here

The society has developed many ways to explore the deeper meanings of voyaging and wayfinding and they continue to reconnect the island peoples of Oceania with the old ways, with each other, and with the world.

In their growing, they’ve helped to revitalize a number of cultural practices that hold great meaning and mana for the ones who live it.

These practices include art, language, music, dance, ways of thinking and ways of cooperation that are a counter to the homogenizing and narrowing effects of our post-modern dependence on machines and straight-line thinking.

OF COURSE THERE IS A BOOK….

There’s a book, HAWAIKI RISING:  Hōkūle’a, Nainoa Thompson and the Hawaiian Resistance by Sam Low, a photographer and film-maker who documented the origin tale as it happened.

The book tells the story of the vessel’s making and her first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976.  It captures the images of the people who made her and sailed her.

The saga is a remarkable tale of high adventure and great derring-do, a chronicle of the beginnings of one of the sparks that ignited the rebirth of a culture and a people that was languishing in defeat and despair.

(The author also made an award-winning film, “The Navigators – Pathfinders of the Pacific”.)

In 1978, the Hōkūle’a embarked from Oahu’s Magic Island, once again headed toward Tahiti on another cultural expedition. This time the dream was to have a Hawaiian navigate the canoe on the trip to Tahiti.

The canoe capsized in treacherous seas outside the Hawaiian islands and the crew spent the night adrift.

Eddie Aikau, an internationally acclaimed surfer and waterman, who was a member of the crew, set off on his surfboard to find help.  He was never seen again.

The crew was rescued, but the loss of Eddie which was compounded by the departure of their teacher, master navigator Mau Piailug, left the leadership of the voyaging group in disarray.

(Mau had returned to his home, disgusted at the contentious infighting and lack of consensus among the Hawaiians, before the trip began.)

Nainoa’s father and other leaders in the Hawaiian community helped the young people work through their disheartenment.

The old guys, who were experienced group leaders, told the younger ones that they had not “earned” the trip.  They had not learned enough of what they needed to know to make the run.

Any great endeavor requires extraordinary preparation and forethought and a great deal of hard work.  Until you’ve done the work and developed the backlog of skills that you need to deal with the inevitable emergencies, you are likely to meet with failure.

The elders spoke from experience gained over lifetimes of trying and failing and trying again.

With the sharing of their life-knowledge they helped to foster the understanding that there could be a deeper purpose for the voyaging than just playing around and having a good time on the open sea.

Thompson went to Micronesia to bring Mau back.

strings-of-life
“Strings of Life” (banyan tree roots) by Paul Oka via Flickr. [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The group learned.  Thompson learned.  They earned that trip to Tahiti and then planned and worked and did others.

They continued to venture out on voyages throughout the Pacific, to build their community, and to build canoes.

They kept extending the circle of connection outward.

AN ICON RIDING THE WAVES THROUGH TIME

Hōkūle’a, which was designed by artist and historian Herb Kawainui Kane, has become a symbol of the ancient indigenous arts of wayfinding and sailing off into the unknown and for the power of human connection and cooperation.

hokulea
Hōkūle’a” by Steve Judd [CC BY-NC-ND 2]
Other canoes have since been built, but she was the start.

Her greatest voyage was a three-year circumnavigation of the earth that began in March, 2014.  Hōkūle’a docked at 150 ports, stopping in 23 countries including Tahiti, Brazil, South Africa and Cuba and came home in June, 2017.

The world watched.  The children learned.

An interesting thing.

The around-the-world voyage began with many of the oldest surviving members of the past canoe crews who had a hand in sailing the vessel over the years of going out and then returning.

The crew that brought her home were from among the best and newest voyagers who had been trained by their elders.

And the procession continues, from the old ones to the young ones, from the past to the future.

THE POWER OF REMEMBERING YOUR TEACHERS

In 2015, as Hōkūle’a was making the world-encircling voyage, PBS Hawaii’s Leslie Wilcox presented an episode in their Long Story Short series that featured Wilcox’s interview of Nainoa Thompson.

The talk-story meanders through Thompson’s life and includes his childhood and his history with wayfaring and the cultural renaissance of the Hawaiian people, touching on turning points and highlights of his life-journey.

It elucidates Nainoa’s thoughts on how one develops into a worthy leader, the importance of building community, and the value of teachers and mentors in this process.

Even more importantly, Nainoa explains how he continues to live his life based on the “culture of values” into which he was born.

Here’s the YouTube video of the interview:

About halfway through the video, Thompson talks about the time when he was appointed by the Hawaii Probate Court, in the year 2000, to serve as one of the five trustees for the Bishop Estate, the largest private property owner in the state of Hawaii.

The trust, established by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop’s will, funds the Kamehameha Schools, a private school system in the state that the princess founded.

Nainoa’s appointment as a trustee came at a time when the trust was rocked by a scandal centered around gross mismanagement that jeopardized the future of the schools.

The previous board had been dismissed and Thompson was one of the replacement trustees, recommended by many community leaders.

Nainoa said that he felt absolutely inadequate for the job at hand. He was a fisherman, he said.

…I didn’t feel like I had the tools, I didn’t have the background. But you were asked; right? You were asked to do this.”

Maybe it’s a Hawaiian “thing” – one of those values that are a given:  When your community asks you to do something because they believe that you are the one who can help, then you have to respond to that trust and say yes.

Once you do that, you have obligated yourself to try to do the best you know how and to learn how to do better than you already know.

maui-love
“Maui Love” by Roozbeh Rokni via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Thompson tells how he countered his own self-doubt during that time by having his assistant hang in his office pictures of all of his life-teachers, those who he defined as “leaders that navigated” – the ones who had set the course for him for his whole life.  There were more than sixty pictures on the walls of the room.

The pictures included Pius Mau Piailug, one of the last traditional navigators from Micronesia; Thompson’s father Myron “Pinky” Thompson; NASA Space Shuttle astronaut and teacher Charles Lacy Veach; and waterman Eddie Aikau.

Whenever he faced uncertainty and overwhelming pressure to make some complex decision that involved balancing the often-conflicting needs of the people involved in an issue or situation, Nainoa would take a time-out and go sit in the room, surrounded by his teachers.

He would remember their stories, how they acted, how they thought, and the way they lived. He would ponder on what they would do in the situation he was facing.

Their ways of walking became the foundation for building and developing his own.

He says, “…that was the smartest thing I ever did, was to get all my teachers and my leaders in the room with me, and I could sit with them in counsel by myself.  Then, go back inside and deal with the rough decisions that you’re never, ever feeling that it’s one hundred percent the correct thing to do….”

At one point in the interview, he calls the fear of moving forward into ambiguity and uncertainty and taking the next action his “best friend.”

Thompson likens that fear to a door you don’t want to open– the one that requires you to be honest about all of your inadequacies and your-less-than-perfect self and to go on anyhow.

For that lesson, he credits his friend, Eddie Aikau, the big-wave surfer who always would go, who always wanted to take action.

Eddie said, Open the door.”

doorknob
“Doorknob” by SirSlasher via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Nainoa kept that thought with him as he continued to help to build a legacy for the ones who followed after him.

Once his term as a Bishop Estate trustee ended, Thompson went back to the sea.

The voyages and the wayfinding continues still.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As a writer and a poet, I am very much aware of the power (and the limitations) of words.

I do know that one elegant and beautiful way of walking through the world is more valuable than all the words and words and words that are meant to move the hearts around you.

It’s a good thing to remember when you are working towards some dream or other.  It really does not matter whether the walker becomes famous or remains obscure.  It’s glorious to succeed, but what are you succeeding at?

It seems to me that what is important is whether the way the walker walks helps to make the world a better place for everybody else.

It’s probably the most effective way to make friends and influence people as well.

tree-fern-crozier-unfurling
“Tree Fern Crozier Unfurling” by J Brew via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
 Here’s a poem….


WISDOM

Wisdom is simple, they tell me.

It’s just hard to walk easy like that.

Wisdom doesn’t make things or break things.

Wisdom just knows when to move,

When to be still.

And if you follow wisdom,

Maybe so will you.

 

Go…Stop…Start…Finish.

 

You make this turn, not that.

You dance a jig and spin a spin,

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You talk, you shout,

You stare, you glare,

You take a dare,

You throw it all down

On one roll of the dice,

Or walk away, whistling.

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You look and see what’s really there,

Join in the spectator crowd,

Or maybe hide your head in the sand,

Or you pull out some ‘scope –

Micro-,

Tele-,

Kaleido-,

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

You play or not,

You pass or plot

Or maybe you cheat at cards.

You take a stand,

Gather a band,

Or run like hell’s coming after.

And, sometimes, that’s wisdom.

 

The trick of it all is in knowing when

And you really can’t buy that

From some magic man.

 

Time’s what you need

And stepping real slow…

And, always, always, that is wisdom.

By Netta Kanoho

Header Picture credit:  “A Place In the Sun” by Chie Gondo in Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]

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MAKE THE ORDINARY SACRED

MAKE THE ORDINARY SACRED

I am reading a book by a man I admire greatly, Edward Espe Brown.  He was the first head cook at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center back in the 1960’s and later founded Greens Restaurant in San Francisco.

His earliest book, THE TASSAJARA BREAD BOOK is a classic.

More than one dear friend remembers their well-thumbed, flour-coated and oil-stained go-to copy of the book and the loveliness that flowed from their hands and the kitchens of their youth.

Brown’s latest work, NO RECIPE:  Cooking as Spiritual Practice, is a distillation of the wisdom he has gained after more than 50 years of feeding many people, of running large kitchens, and of following the path of Zen Buddhism as a monk, as a teacher, and as a philosopher.

I devoured it in one big gulp and am re-reading it slowly and picking out the best parts to savor.  It will undoubtedly have a place on my bookshelf for a long time…just so I can dip into it again.

The following YouTube video, “Awaken In the Sacred Space” was published in 2018 by the publisher Sounds True just after the book came out.

Try look!  You might like it!

YOU START WITH YOURSELF

Brown’s root teacher was Shunryu Suzuki Rōshi who was the Sōtō Zen monk and teacher who helped popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States and who founded the first Buddhist monastery outside Asia.

One of my favorite Suzuki Rōshi videos is this one “Sandokai – Sound and Noise,” posted by semillas de bambu in 2007.  It gives you a glimpse of the man and the way he talked and how he thought.

In a 2013 interview for a blog post put up by the San Francisco Zen Center, Brown pointed out, “I still appreciate Suzuki Rōshi saying, ‘When you are you, Zen is Zen.’ He didn’t say when you get to be Zen enough, then you’ll have really gotten somewhere. So much of Suzuki Rōshi’s way was to find out what’s appropriate for the occasion and what works for people.”

It is that practicality – connecting the sacred to the ordinary and grounding it there — that shines throughout Brown’s book.  It takes your head and your heart away into a peaceful place.

brussel-sprouts-before-roasting
“Brussel sprouts before roasting” by John Sullivan [CC BY-SA 2.0]

MUSINGS ON MAKING THE ORDINARY SACRED

As I was thinking on what to share with you in this post and shuffling through notes and jottings and other stuff, I rediscovered an old bit of writing from when I was focusing on developing a “manifesto” – promises to myself of how I wanted to proceed with my life.

more-abundance
“More Abundance” by Netta Kanoho via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
I thought I’d share this thing with you.  Maybe you’ll find something useful in it.  (I know I still have a grand time playing with it.)


One of the choices I delineated for myself was this one: I make and maintain room in my life to make the ordinary sacred.

In order to do this, I figured that I had to do the following:

  • I give myself time to play.

Without the time to play, it all sort of mooshes into “gotta, gotta, gotta,” and it starts feeling like one giant treadmill.   Somehow, I can’t feature hamsters being real into “sacred.”

  • I help make the structure of my life a better vehicle for enhancing Creativity.

When I have spaces built in where I can play with making a Little Something out of the Big Nothing, then I start feeling like I can stop to appreciate all the wonder there really is in the world.

Everything’s a little more sparkly, a little more special, because it’s not just ME doing Little Somethings, it’s EVERYBODY doing Little Somethings.

This is a great space to be in when you’re trying to make it all sacred.

  • I ask the hard questions and I develop rituals that remind me what is Real.

Hard questions are like, “What am I doing be-bopping along here on this road to death?”  and “How am I making my space sparkly?” and “Why do I care whether so-and-so is a dorkhead?” and “What can I let go of now?” and “What do I want to keep now?” and so on and so forth.

Making rituals include things like lighting a bit of incense before I work on reconciling my checkbook so that I remember that I am working with the abundance in the universe that is flowing through my life.

It includes cleaning up the stack of the day’s dishes before going to bed so I wake up without leftover messes in my face.

It includes doing my ch’i kung routine every morning so that I feel the energy that’s out there flowing all around, just waiting for me to join in the dance.

It includes moving stuff around and checking out how the feng shui moves helped (or not) as I go through my day.

It includes writing quick notes to heart-people just because it feels good to have them in my life.

  • I make room in my life to focus on Creativity.

I always seem to get caught up in doing, doing, doing.  It is a cool thing to be able to stop and step back from it all and see where it is going.

If I can do that, it seems, that there’s automatically more space to do something that is heartful.

It also helps when I can step back and look at what I am doing and see where I can do it in a way that fosters more creativity.

I want open-ended avenues, not cul-de-sacs, I think.

I want mountain passes rather than ruts and grooves.

I want bridges rather than dead ends.

Working on it.

  • I develop creative projects and products that help other people open their hearts and play.

Part of that process is stopping every so often to see whether what I am doing is still useful or if I need to be doing some other thing.

  • I develop skill and facility in using story, symbolism and metaphor that feed and enhance my communication skills.

There is so much power in the Word, but there is also power in the non-verbal.  I am working on that one a lot right now and seeing where that takes me.


Looking at the thing now, I can see it was still a lot of half-baked ideas.

I also see that through the years since I first wrote this thing, I’ve continued working on and developing these mind-constructs.  It’s turned out okay as I keep on working them through and I’ve been mostly pleased with the results.

The whole of this, I think, is the notion that the Creative IS what is sacred in the ordinary.

Being able to slap together a sandwich or a salad depends on having the space for the fixings and for making what you want to make.  That’s honoring and making room for the Creative.

Being able to dance to your heartsong means you’ve got to have the space to turn around and move your bootie.

And, it seems to me, the only way to get to the Creative is by embracing your own self and how you feel about the way the world is working as well as what you do to recognize and honor the Creative and the sacred in the ordinary.

The best part is this: I’ve found that the more I pursue finding the Creative and the sacred in the ordinary the more my life feels like a wondrous thing.

 Here’s a poem….


SEEKERS

Seekers seek:

It’s what they do….

Looking for what is over there or over there…

just anywhere but Here…

searching for what was then or what will later be,

but never, ever, what is Now.

 

Only one problem –

take it as you choose….

Seekers are always in their Here,

they are always in their Now,

and that eclipses all the rest, ya know,

reveals the fool’s gold of their wanderlust lives and

sets them off…on the road again.

 

I daresay that’s why

Seekers track down some long-lost riddle

or pursue a thing that runs on ahead,

giggling, as it wisps off away into the Unknown –

tantalizingly close…then gone.

 

And, I guess, that’s why

Seekers beat the bushes,

chasing down some truth or other,

leaving no stone unturned,

rooting around in all that detritus and mud,

ferreting out byways and bypasses,

checking out trails and paths,

tracking down yet another cliché

that turns to dross in the sun of their eyes.

 

I suppose that’s why

Seekers quest,

seeking high, looking low,

investigating – delve and dig –

teasing forth yet another wisdom,

finding one more sacred talisman,

throwing out their old dragnets,

pulling them back in,

and then they stand around watching as

their catch (glittery and gleaming when freshly caught)

dries out and morphs into everyday, ordinary pebbles…

over and over again.

 

They say they’re looking for happy, the Seekers,

They say they want to find the Real, the True,

But, it’s a funny thing:

It seems you can only find the Real in your Here

and your Now contains the only True,

and you only get to Happy (or a reasonable facsimile)

when you notice that.

 

I suspect that if your heart is busy yearning

for far-away and some other when —

baubles and bits like a cave full of a dragon’s stash

or the resting-place of a once-and-future king,

like the ancient conundrums of a long-gone people

or the someday-visions of some mystic’s dream —

then, maybe you just cannot see your way to the Here,

maybe you cannot catch the scent of the Now,

and so you’re doomed to keep on looking,

condemned to search, to quest.

 

One day you are old.

The will-o-wisps no longer tantalize and tempt you

and the long road fades off away in the distance

as you sit there in your clown suit watching the sun set,

inventorying your memories, one by one.

And maybe ’cause you’re sitting there all quiet

Your here-and-now comes and sits by you,

Snuggling up against you,

and maybe that’s when Happy has a chance to find you,

and Real and True stop by to have a chat.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:. “Prehistoric Rock Engraving” by Merryjack via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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EMILY FISCHER: Work By Touch

EMILY FISCHER: Work By Touch

I have a fondness for quilting.

My own experiments in crazy-quilting and then sashiko quilting had me going blind doing fancy-stitching with wild and crazy colors and patterns as well as tactile combinations of bumps and lumps that were a heck of a lot of fun for me and for the heart-friends to whom I gifted these bits of silliness.

one-day-quilt
“One Day Quilt” by Rachel via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
That may be why this YouTube video, “Constellation Quilt,” (published in 2013 by Public Record) showing work by designer Emily Fischer and her design studio Haptic Lab caught my eye.

The idea, expressed in the video, of wrapping yourself up in stars and time caught at the strings of my imagination.

Then I saw another YouTube video, “Flying Martha Ornithopter.”  This one was published in 2017 by Made Me Look.  It, too, was about an object designed by Emily Fischer and Haptic Lab.

OOH!

Like Fischer, I understand that kites, winged things and even flapping flags can help us humans explore the movements and flow of the invisible forces of wind.  They can help us tap into the tactile joys of flight.

KINDRED SPIRIT FOUND

It seems to me that I have found another person for whom tactile and sensory design – how a thing feels in your hand and on your skin – is as important as what the thing looks like.

Even more importantly (for me anyway), here is a person for whom objects are repositories for the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.

Among the objects Haptic Lab produces are extraordinarily detailed street maps that they call SoftMaps that can be customized and personalized for individual customers to show where their stories have taken place.

haptic-lab-san-francisco-map-blanket
Haptic Lab San Francisco map blanket by Eric Fischer via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
It seems to me that designers like that are a rarity.

BEGINNINGS OF A COMPANY WITH A HUMAN TOUCH

Emily Fischer grew up in rural Wisconsin where she learned how to make such things as quilts and kites as a youngster.  Even as an architect-wannabe, her crafty beginnings continued to find expression.

As an undergraduate student at Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan in 2002, one of her projects was her first quilted map that she designed as a way-finding tool for the visually impaired.

The inspiration for the project was her mother Peggy who had begun to lose her eyesight through complications from glaucoma.

For these quilts, Emily combined her skill with computer-aided design and manufacture (CAD/CAM) rapid prototyping tools, and open-source mapping software as well as her grounding in the old-school, painstaking craft traditions of quilting and needlework with her explorations of haptics (the way humans perceive objects and sensations through touch).

For years, she continued to make these quilts as side-projects while pursuing her career as an architect in New York City.

In 2009, during the extreme depths of the recession, Fischer was laid off from her job at a commercial architectural firm.

One of the first things she did was build a simple website with images of her experimental personal work that included objects exploring her interests in cartography and early flight.

About that time she says: “Almost immediately, design blogs like Cool Hunting started publishing images of my handmade quilts and kites. I was commissioned to construct a kite for an Opening Ceremony video directed by Matt Wolf. I got a message from ID Magazine (RIP). Then the Los Angeles Times. Then the New York Times. Suddenly everyone wanted to buy the quilted maps I was making. So within three weeks of losing my job, I accidentally started my own company.

And so it began.

Fischer operates her accidental company, Haptics Lab, out of a Brooklyn studio with a small, close-knit team.  The company is grounded in values that emphasize fair trade and sustainability.

For thoughts and insights Emily shared in a 2015 article for Design Sponge, “Ten Ways to Bootstrap a Sustainable Business:  How I was able to meet expectations, make a living and not overwhelm myself and others while also respecting fair-trade practices,” click here: click-here

It is an extraordinarily useful compendium of advice from one who has gone down the road a ways on a path that she says makes her happy.

FINAL FISCHER THOUGHTS

This YouTube “How the Founder of Haptic Lab Uses Design to Drive Positive Change” was created by Skiftx contents studio in 2017.

Here’s a poem:


AT THE CROSSROADS

Another crossroads….

 

Do I go straight ahead?

Do I turn left?

Do I turn right?

Do I go back?

 

Standing flatfooted in the middle

Sucks.

Keep standing there and

You’re likely to get run over

By some unheeding vehicle

That keeps on trundling along.

 

The roads in front spread outward

Leading to who-knows-where.

They stretch on to infinity, you know.

And “back” just means more same-old.

 

And here I am,

With my raw and bleeding heart

Pulling me towards

The one road that is so bright and shiny

That it takes my breath away.

 

The caution signs posted

Along that road are intimidating.

They threaten.

They shout.

They jump up and down, even.

 

Loss and devastation, they declaim.

Doom-and-gloom, they promise.

Desperation and despair.

Ah, me….

Watch out!

Beware!

 

Hmmm….

 

Aw, the heck with it, babe!

Shoots!

We go!

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Touching the World” by Joe Szilagyi via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

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SPOKEN WORD AND BEING HEARD

SPOKEN WORD AND BEING HEARD

In a world of seven billion-plus souls, one of our deepest human needs often goes unfulfilled – the need to be heard.  That may be one reason why the Spoken Word movement, once a subculture on the fringes of the mainstream, is gaining widespread acceptance around the world.

THE RISE OF SPOKEN WORD

“Spoken word poetry” was born in Chicago in 1984, when a construction worker, Marc Smith, started reading poetry at a popular club and encouraged others to join him in sharing their work.  Smith was looking to “democratize” poetry and “bring it to the masses.”

He was following an old road with an ancient lineage that meanders through the underground and fringes of Society among the dispossessed and disenfranchised and the ones who choose to stand different.

The trailhead for this road began before there was writing and paper.  The college theses expounding about the “long-held traditions” of the ancient art of wordsmithing (and all the other hoo-hah that made playing with words seem like it is a probable cause for dyspepsia) were not even a glimmer on any horizon.

Smith was going back to that most ancient of traditions, Word-of-Mouth — just like the tribal storytellers and assorted con artists and bull-shitters sitting around campfires and hearth-fires of the world from ancient times, weaving a yarn for their friends and companions.  And he was inviting everybody else to join him.

campfire
“Campfire” by Markus Pachali via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Smith remembered:  Poetry was, first and foremost, an oral art.  It was an art with a performer and an audience.  The people around him liked that reminder.

Two years after he first got up to tell his poems out loud, Smith approached the owner of a jazz club.  Those readings happened every week and evolved into a competition.

The format gained popularity, but it was the Internet that blew it up big.  A lot of people liked being reminded that poetry is an oral art.

Poetry was originally produced by a human voice, propelled out of a human body with the breath.  It was one person talking to a bunch of other people.

Audiences liked the presentations by the most avid performers that showed that poetry, at its most effective, contains the rhythm and movements of a human heart.

They liked that the beginning and end of a poetic line is often a unit of phrasing and sense-making that is based on the human breath. You need to breathe when you’re speaking your poem.  It is your breath and your voice that animates it.

PAGE POETRY VS STAGE POETRY

Poetry Its-Own-Self has always been a means of often-powerful self-expression.  It grew out of song and prayer and storytelling traditions that continue to this day.  It has been with us forever and because of that it can be difficult to pin down and define.

One cute breakdown, “What Is Poetry? #Poetry Defined” was published in 2015 by Advocate of Wordz.  Here’s the YouTube video:

In my own experience, poetry has been a life-saver.  It continues to be a way for me to find my own clarity in the confusion of everyday life.  Rearranging words on a page helps me to rearrange the thoughts in my head.  It works very well for that.

But, let’s face it.  Over the centuries, page poetry has become stigmatized by many folks as indulgences of the rich-and-snooty.  Books of poetry tended to gather dust on bookshelves.

Page poetry (especially as was taught in schools when I was growing up) could be a yawn-inducing experience.  Poetry – at least the kind pedagogues seemed to favor — had the most gawd-awful and esoteric rules formulated by various poetry-makers in times past, all gathered together by the intelligentsia and assorted acolytes of High Culture.

If your teacher was into it, as mine often were, it was a grand thing; otherwise, not so much.  Teachers who got stuck on guiding their charges through parsing and analyzing some “Great Poem” or other, killed more poets a-borning than any other thing, probably.

Like calculus and philosophical debate, it was stuff for the Big-Brains (or folks who wanted to look like they had some.)

Page poetry was a good thing to inflict on children.  Like regular doses of cod-liver oil or whatever, it was supposed to keep them growing and make them strong.  By the time the children hit adulthood, it was often not a thing remembered fondly.

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“The Poet” by Russell Chopping via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
“Dull” was page poetry’s other name.

Committing poetry to a page (if you were not an academic sort), was a weird sort of hobby at best.  Solitary you could string the words from your heart across assorted pages and realize all kinds of gains.  Rigorous mental exercise, mastery of an art form, personal catharsis, and insights are possibilities that come to mind.

A common fate for these homemade page poems was to be stuck in a drawer where they moldered until the poet’s death, after which, they were probably tossed by the poet’s heirs.

If you were particularly proud of the page poems you constructed, you submitted them to magazines in exchange for magazine issues, sold them to greeting card makers for pennies, or spent money on producing self-published chapbooks to give to all of your family and friends.

If you got good at producing poems, you might even consider spending time creating them “on demand” as a busker.

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“The Poet” by Garry Knight via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
When the Internet revved up, you could also post them on websites or on social networks and then wonder whether they ever reached anybody.  (The page poem launch very often hits a wall of dead silence.)

The problem with even the best page poetry is that it is only one-half of a dialogue.  The maker makes, but doesn’t know whether anybody is out there listening, doesn’t feel like he or she is being heard.  It gets to feel like you’re talking to yourself.

Stage poetry (as spoken word has been called) is something else.  When it’s done well and the audience is lively, it flies.  Performers and audiences can get caught up in a group hug-fest.

  • Some poets are raucous; they rant and rave, yell and shout. Others are calm and relaxed.
  • There are poets who make you laugh and poets who make you cry. Many of them bare their deepest secrets and rock your heart.
  • Some weave intricate verbal patterns that enthrall you in a web of sound.
  • Others parse out a problem using simple words that drill down into the core of it, reframing and rearranging your mind.

Stage poetry can be inspiring.  A spoken word poem can be stimulating and entertaining when it’s good.

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“Poet” by Taz etc. via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
When several good poets get together it can turn into a jazz jam, a live performance never to be repeated in exactly the same way.  It can be a feast.

More importantly, even when the poetry or the performance is not so good, stage poetry is about connection.  The poet speaks.  The audience listens.  Good performers take their listeners flying; bad performers get a lot of points for trying.

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“The Elders” by Laura Thorne via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

A TASTE OF SPOKEN WORD

To give you a taste, here’s one of my favorite slam poems, “Legacy,” presented in this YouTube Video published by Button Poetry.  It features poet Tui Scanlon performing for Hawaii during the prelims at the 2014 National Poetry Slam.

Button Poetry was founded in 2011 by poets Sam Cook and Sierra DeMulder.  Since then it’s become the largest digital distributor of spoken word in the world.  The Button Poetry videos are shared on websites like Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and NPR.  Their YouTube channel has over 900,000 subscribers.  Click here to check them out:

click-here

SPOKEN WORD INTERNATIONAL

These days, commentators note that spoken word has “gone mainstream.”  Poetry meant to be performed – performance poetry – is winning accolades from audiences of regular people.  Some of those people get up on stage and do their own spoken word pieces before sometimes massive crowds.

All over the world, wherever people gather, there are open mic nights, where folks get up in front of a crowd and share their words – angry poetry, love poems, poems of protest and politics, stand-up poetry, punk poetry, jazz poetry, nonsense rhymes, and rap and hip-hop fusion poetry.

There are regular organized gatherings of amateur and casual poets.

There are poetry slams where the competition and audience participation can get intense.

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“German-language Poetry Slam Championships 2010” by Very Quiet via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
There are shows by professional poets.  At festivals, you’ll find performing poets sharing the stage with musicians, actors, dancers and other performing artists.

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“National Cowboy Poetry Gathering – 2017” by Travel Nevada via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] (Photo by Sydney Martinez)
On the Internet, the variety (and the sheer number) of posted poetry videos boggles the mind.

There are even spoken word workshops you can attend to become a better performing poet.

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“Slam Workshop” by Tom Astleitner via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
And, in the schools, performance poetry and spoken word has opened a door to the impact and the power of words for children of all ages.

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“Louder Than a Bomb KC Team” by Laura Gilchrist via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Smith’s plan to bring poetry back to the masses worked.   Words were spoken…and more and more and more words keep being spoken, mostly because people are definitely listening.

The quality of the works vary, of course, and that seems to be a part of the whole scene.

THE BEST POEM

My benchmark “best poem” has no words.  It was an exchange between my friend Wide Garcia, who chairs the meeting of the Maui Live Poets that meets in the Makawao Library on the third Wednesday night of each month, and a young man with Aspergers Syndrome.

During one of our regular meetings, we were doing a round-robin, where all of the poets in attendance took a turn to present a poem to the crowd.  A young man came in midway through the first session and sat down in an empty chair.  He sat quietly and watched as the poets read or spoke their work, watched as the audience responded.

It’s Wide’s practice to ask everyone who comes to the gatherings if they would like to present a poem.  After the first round was done and the poets were mingling and talking story, he approached the young man, who was sitting there, seemingly detached from the hubbub around him, and asked whether the boy had work he would like to share.

The young man did not answer, so Wide asked again, looking deeply into the teenager’s eyes.

There was a pause.  Then the boy lifted his right hand with all of his fingertips held together like a spear-point and touched the middle of his chest, fingers pointed right at his heart.  He gestured, moving his arm outward towards Wide and opened his hand, palm-up, as if he were offering his heart.

Wide made the same gesture back to the boy and grinned at him.  The boy just looked back at him out of his own world.

And, for me, that became my benchmark “good poem” – the one I remember every time I start constructing another one.  A good poem offers up your heart to another person.  It’s even better when that other person offers up his or her heart back.

Here’s a poem….


ALWAYS THERE ARE POEMS

 Always there are poems.

Not all of them use words.

Sometimes your body builds them.

Sometimes hearts must be heard.

 

The hand that reaches out,

The smile that glows and shines,

The eyes that sparkle in delight,

The hug that says, “We’re fine.”

 

Always there are poems.

All you need to do is see

The wonders of the universe

And the worlds in you and me.

 by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Ballsaal um 20:50” (Poetry Slam) by Sebastian Courvoisier via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
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COMPLINE — Wings of a Prayer

COMPLINE — Wings of a Prayer

Since 1956 the Compline Choir has filled St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle, WA with the uplifting holy sounds of chant.  The service happens at 9:30 p.m. every Sunday.  It is only 30 minutes long.

There are no sermons, no priests – just readings of psalms and some thoughtful musings interspersed between an incredible, soothing, peace-inducing sound.

This YouTube video, The Compline Choir at St. Mark’s Cathedral (Seattle, WA), was published in 2014.  It was the first one to be produced and commissioned by the Choir and gives you a taste of what they do.

(The video was filmed by Markdavin Obenza and includes excerpts from the Compline Service for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels on September 29, 2013.)

A BALM FOR THE WEARY SOUL

Chanted prayer is an ancient tradition, one that modern-day science has found is good medicine for the body and for the mind.

Dr. Alan Watkins, a neuroscientist and co-founder of Complete Coherence, a European business leadership development firm, has explored many different ways to help clients maintain high levels of performance during challenging and stressful times.

In 2008, when Watkins was a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London, he announced, “We have recently carried out research that demonstrates that the regular breathing and musical structure of chanting can have a significant and positive physiological impact.”

Watson and his team followed five monks at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, a Cistercian monastery in the village of Heiligenkreuz in the southern part of the Vienna woods, north-west of Baden in Lower Austria.

The monastery, founded in 1133, is the oldest continuously occupied Cistercian monastery in the world.   The monks are famous for their Gregorian chants.

heilingenkreuz
“Heiligenkreuz” by Paula Funnell via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
The scientists followed the monks around and measured their heart rates and blood pressure throughout a 24-hour period.  The heart rates and blood pressure numbers dipped to their lowest point in the day when the monks were chanting.

Dr Watkins pointed to similar previous studies documenting the neurological effects of sound supported their findings that chanting seems to lower blood pressure, increase performance hormone levels as well as reduce anxiety and depression and improve mood.

One remarkable story is the one French audiologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis tells in a 1978 documentary called “Chant.”  The good doctor was called in to help the monks of a Benedictine monastery who were suffering from deep fatigue, depression and physical illness.

The doctor found that the sad, sick monks had been complying with a new church edict that had halted the centuries-old practice of chanting prayers throughout their day to mark their connection with the Divine.

When Tomatis convinced the monks to re-establish their rituals of prayer, the religious community regained its vitality. The monks were healthier and happier.

Not only is chanting beneficial, but it seems that just listening to chanting can be good for your health.

Some scientists believe music can stimulate the production of endorphins—natural opiates known to generate feelings of excitement and satisfaction.

It’s also possible, they say, that music helps the left and right hemispheres of the brain communicate more effectively and that it creates new neural pathways in the brain.

Benedictine nun, Sister Ruth Stanley, who is the head of the complementary medicine program at Central Minnesota’s Heart Center at St. Cloud Hospitals, found that having her patients listen to chant helped to ease chronic pain.

When you play chant, Sister Stanley said, “about 85 percent of the time, the body goes into very deep healing modes.  It’s quite remarkable.”

Listening to the Compline (and to other forms of chanting as well) can foster inner peacefulness and healing, it seems.

ROOTS OF THE COMPLINE

The Compline has its roots in the everyday life of medieval Catholic monastics.  It is the last service in a cycle of “offices” or “hours” sung in the Western Church throughout the day, the prayer before going to bed.

During medieval times, in the Catholic monasteries and convents in the west, the resident monks and nuns spent their days in solitary and communal prayer as well as doing more mundane work.   (For all of them staying mindful of the Divine in their lives was one of their primary jobs, actually.)

Residents in the monasteries were more isolated from the world than those living in convents and friaries, who spent their days doing good works in their communities, but all of them prayed separately and together throughout the day, reciting formal sets of prayers and meditations created by the leaders of their various orders.

The timing and the formats of the monastic prayer services that marked the divisions of the religious day evolved as leaders of the various religious groups set up rules for how their followers should live and work and pray.  Much of it was pretty much standardized for the different religious communities in the west by the fifth century.

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“St. Benedict” by Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
During medieval times (and pretty much into the 20th century) each religious day was divided into eight parts (also known as canonical “hours”).  The set prayers for each of these divisions made up the Liturgy of the Hours.

Lauds (morning prayer) sanctified the morning, preparing the inhabitants for the day.  In medieval religious communities, that day started very early.

Terce (mid-morning), sext (midday), none (mid-afternoon) were known collectively as the “Little Hours”.  They were celebrated with short prayers intended for use during  breaks in manual or scholarly work.

Vespers (evening prayer) was for coming together to give thanks for the blessings received during the day and for work done well.

Compline (night prayer) was designed to be said as the last prayer before going to sleep.  It starts with an examination of consciousness and includes a contemplation of mortality and a prayer for inner peace.

This service of quietness and reflection before rest completed the day for the religious.  In certain monasteries, it marked the beginning of a period of silence observed by the whole community (including guests) throughout the night until the morning service.

The Night Offices (also called Vigils, and, in more modern times, Matins) were performed very early in the morning while it was still dark.  During this time you were supposed to contemplate the mysteries of salvation.

In some of the more rigorous monasteries, the monks were supposed to get up in the middle of the night to recite these prayers and to meditate.

There was one other “hour” called Prime, which was celebrated between Lauds and Terce.

Around the year 382, it seems that in at least one monastery there were some monks who couldn’t get up for their morning prayers after spending half the night doing their Vigil practice.

To keep the monks from staying in bed until mid-morning instead of getting up to start their day, all of the monks were called together for Prime when they prayed together before heading out to do their tasks.  The practice proved to be effective and was adopted by other monasteries.

(Prime was abolished by revisions of the Second Vatican Council when church leaders looked at ways to make the practices of a contemplative religious “more humane.”)

Until the 20th century, the Compline was pretty much unknown to the general public and worshippers who were not a part of a monastic community.

ONE MAN’S VISION

St. Mark’s Compline Choir and the Compline Service was the brainchild of American composer and liturgist Peter  Hallock (November 19, 1924 to April 27, 2014) who was organist and choirmaster at the St. Mark’s Cathedral from 1951 to 1991.

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“St. Mark’s Cathedral Organ” by kaoruokumura via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]
When he attended the Royal School of Church Music in England, from 1949 to 1951, Hallock was one of the few American students allowed to chant the Office of Compline with fellow classmates in the crypt of the Canterbury Cathedral.

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“Canterbury Cathedral Interior: Arches in the Nave” by barnyz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
When Hallock became the organist at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, he invited twelve music students from his alma mater, the University of Washington, to gather at the St. Mark’s to study and sing plainsong.  Their text was from the Proposed Book of Common Prayer (1928) of the Church of England, set to medieval chants.

By late 1956, this study group evolved into the Compline Choir.  Not all of the choir members were religiously oriented.  They were, however, excellent musicians and they loved liturgical music.

The all-male group grew in number as they began singing the Office of Compline for others on Sunday nights.  It was the first offering of the Office in English on a regular basis (outside of Anglican monasteries) in North America.  For a number of years they sang to an empty church.

Starting in 1962, the St. Mark’s Compline service was broadcast live over the radio on KING-FM.

Perhaps that is why when the “Summer of Love” in the late 1960’s turned young people’s minds towards more spiritual practices, colorfully dressed young people discovered the beauty and peacefulness of the Compline, and began attending the service at St. Mark’s in droves.

The congregation grew, practically overnight, from zero attendance to several hundreds packed into the church.

Hallock led the Compline Choir from 1956 to 2009.  (The choir is now directed by Jason Anderson, who joined the choir in October, 2004.)  The services continue to be well-attended and thousands more tune in to the radio broadcast or listen via the Internet.

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“view above the altar in St. Mark’s Cathedral” by robryan65 via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
As time went on, a renewed interest in plainsong and other forms of liturgical music as well as the Compline grew.  Over fifty groups now offer a regular Office of Compline in the United States and Canada..

The once-obscure medieval religious service has become a regular spiritual practice for many modern people.  It is also a lovely way to help yourself get to sleep.

PETER HALLOCK INTERVIEW

Composer Peter Hallock talks about his music and his experiences at St. Mark’s Cathedral in this YouTube video published by Markdavin Obenza in 2013.  The video features session footage and music from the Byrd Ensemble’s CD release, Peter Hallock:  Draw On Sweet Night.

Here’s a poem….


SOUL THING

It’s a soul thing.

 

World sometimes gets at you

With all the needs and wants

Pulling at you, dragging at you

Making you sink down

Under the weight of so much

Gimme, do me, want me, honey!

 

Real is something else:

A quiet place that sits there

Waiting for you to come and rest

Your weary self by waters

Gently flowing like soft music

Melting down your heart, yeah!

 

It’s a soul thing, don’t you know?

The ebb, the flow of this thing

We are doing together that

Seems like everything and nothing

Much at all, at all.

But we keep doing it, yay!

 

We keep on doing, doing, doing it….

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  St. Mark’s Cathedral (on Seattle’s Capitol Hill as viewed from the Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union) by sea turtle via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Thank you for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

 

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JOURNALIZE YOUR LIFE

JOURNALIZE YOUR LIFE

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that “creativity” is not a talent; it is a way of operating. [The coolest thing is anybody can do it.]

I guess it’s a cliché now.  One way to enhance your creativity, they tell us, is to keep a journal.  Snuggle up with your thoughts and illuminate your feelings, write down your dreams and hunches, collect quotes from the famous and the notorious.

Spend time in your own head.  Be your own psychotherapist.  Be your own guru.  At the very least, you can be your own pen-pal.

COMMONPLACE BOOKS

Journalizing your life is part of a long, long tradition.  In Enlightenment-era Europe, during the “Age of Reason” (which most people say runs from around 1685 to 1815), it was all the rage.

The smarty pants and wise guys then all kept what they called “commonplace books.”  These were personalized encyclopedias of quotes as well as thoughts and aspirations and other bits of their own writings that scholars, amateur scientists and aspiring men of letters put together.

commonplace book detail
“Commonplace book detail” by vlasta2 via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Some folks transcribed whole gobs of books they found interesting in their commonplace books.  (One guy cobbled together parts of the Bible that made sense to him, leaving out the parts that didn’t.  This was not well-received in some circles.)

One of the leading lights of the Enlightenment movement was John Locke.  He was a systems guy and from an early age he was busy devising new systems and new ways of looking at things.

Locke developed a version of the commonplace book in 1652 (during his first year at Oxford) that was a cause for excitement among the geeks and nerds of the day.  Locke put together an elaborate system for indexing his commonplace book’s contents which made it easy for him to find passages and ideas that he wanted to revisit, review, and use.  Others followed his example.

JOURNALING TODAY

Nowadays journals come in all shapes and sizes, fancy and plain.  They’re mostly blank books that you fill in your own self.  Some are peppered with other people’s thoughts, all ready for you to use.  They’ve come to be one of the default gifts you want to give to people who are Makers (or who want to be).

You can write in them and you can turn them into sketchbooks or artsy work notepads and such.  You can even turn them into works of art.

The things are ubiquitous.  Everybody gets one at some point or other.  There are magazines, how-to videos, courses and guidebooks for making your own as well.

If you’re not particularly into deep thinking, if writing is boring for you, or if you are insecure about your art skills, receiving one of those things can precipitate a minor crisis of sorts.  (It becomes one more thing to hide under your bed or tuck behind other stuff on the shelves and ignore.)

For the people who have never been able to “finish” one of those ready-made journals, here’s a You-Tube video about WRECK THIS JOURNAL, a book put together by guerilla-artist, author, and illustrator Keri Smith.  It was published in 2012 by Penguin Books as a promotion for her book of that name.

That book took off and is the first of four volumes in a series.

Over the years, Keri Smith has made an astonishing array of books about creativity and getting your art on.  Her books include bestselling concept books like:

For many years she also maintained a popular website, Wish Jar, that is a beautifully constructed on-line journal of sorts.  It doesn’t seem to be very active these days, but the site is lovely to explore anyway.

THE JOY OF DIGITAL ARCHIVING

And that’s the other thing:  Computers can be turned into journaling tools, if that’s your bent.   You, too, can put together a digital archive.

You can fill it with all kinds of stuff:  quotes, research on specific projects, passages transcribed from articles and books, web page clippings, and random discoveries, hunches and intuitions of your own.

Some folks call clunkier, more workaday versions of these things “swipe files.”  (That term gets my back up.  It sounds like an invitation to thievery or something.)

I prefer to think of the things as a stewpot simmering away over a bunson burner or a hot plate. (Or maybe it’s a cute personal crockpot, if you’re not into minimalism.)  You can get some really good writing or art-making “stock” out of that stuff…even from the yawn-inducing junk.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I am a writer and a poet.  For me thoughts and ideas are building blocks and ingredients that can be cooked together in a variety of ways.  The thoughts you add to your archive (whether digital or paper) can add savor and flavor to your own efforts at writing or art.

Even if you fish out all the bits of meat and vegetables in a long-cooking stew, the broth holds the flavor anyhow.

Here’s a poem:


ON READING OLD JOURNALS

So…

This is what they’re for:

I wander through the pages,

Poring over the

Old maps I have drawn of

The counties of my mind.

 

I stop here and there,

Remembering the stances

I have tried that now

Lie crumpled like improbable fashion

Statements that didn’t quite work.

That mix that didn’t match…

 

Ooh!  This one’s embarrassing!

Old revelations sparkle

In the pile of dither

And the tarnished dross of

Plated costume-jewelry thoughts.

 

I see the spirals that I dance,

Around, around, around

And I have to laugh at all

The silly detours and digressions

That lead me straight back to

The core that stands there still,

Waiting….

by Netta Kanoho

Header Photo credit:  “Reflections of Maui” by Mark Faviell via Flickr [CC BY-ND-NC 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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ON THE ROAD TO MEANING

ON THE ROAD TO MEANING

In 2001, a group of  friends graduated from college and set out on a cross-country road trip to interview people who lived “lives centered around what was meaningful for them.”

The boys acquired an RV, and wandered around countryside filming a documentary about their trip in which they brazenly approached all sorts of people who were doing what looked like interesting things and asked them a lot of personal questions about life-issues like, “How do you know that this thing you do is right for you?” and “What was your worst mistake?” and  “What advice do you have for a lost puppy like me?”

The documentary the friends made of their journey was expanded into a series on PBS. They wrote a book about the first road trip.

This first book was followed by other books, by other projects all designed to help other people get the kind of insights the young men acquired on their own original road trip.

Eventually they and the team they assembled along the way launched a nonprofit called “Roadtrip Nation.”  The goal of this nonprofit is to help other young people who need advice for shaping their own careers into something fulfilling, for living a life doing what matters most to them.

In the following YouTube video, “Road Trip Nation:  The RT Nation Story,” the three friends, Mike Marriner, Nathan Gebhard and Brian McAllister, tell the story of their continuing journey.

They point out that going around the country asking people they encountered questions about how they ended up living lives that had meaning and mana helped each of them find their own truths, their own self-definitions, and their own kind of good life.

Asking questions and listening to the answers from people who had taken their own paths was profoundly useful to them.  It helped them answer that age-old question, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

What started as a madcap adventure-cum-vision quest has spawned a whole movement of young people who are looking for their own answers to this most important question.

Besides an assortment of books, Roadtrip Nation maintains an extensive on-line video library of the interviews they conducted on their PBS series.

If you click on the “watch” link you can browse the PBS series by season.  Within each season you can browse each episode by interview subject.  Among those interviewed are everything from CEOs of major corporations to everyday workers in all kinds of industries and working situations who love what they do.

 Besides all of this, the Nation has put together a guide-book of sorts called ROADMAP: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do With Your Life.  It’s a starter-kit for seekers looking for the meaning and mana in their own lives.

Check it out.  (It’s filled with exercises and ideas that  work for serious questers  of any age.)

And here’s a poem:


WILL YOU HEAR ME?

Understand something, please:

I do not aspire to be that tree

That falls in the woods and no one hears.

I refuse to be one of a line of trees in the forest

Blown down by a big kona wind,

Spilling across the landscape like fallen matchsticks.

 

I want to be heard,

To know my voice will rise up and grab at ears,

That my words will shake and stoke hearts that burn.

I want my voice to join those other voices in the wind,

That roar like a raging river,

That gently sigh like a baby sleeping.

 

Will you hear me?


Header picture credit:  “Traffic Trails” by Barry Davis via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you would drop a note or comment below and tell me your thoughts.

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AN ORDINARY DIFFERENCE

AN ORDINARY DIFFERENCE

Sometimes, it really is only a little thing that can make a big difference.  A genuine smile may brighten someone’s day.  A kind word or a sincere expression of appreciation can help somebody keep on going through tough times.

“Loving-kindness” was what the Tibetan Buddhist crazy wisdom master Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche used to call it, and for him and his students it was a most pertinent practice.  It helps alleviate the suffering in the world, the old masters all say.

CLICHÉ-ALERT

And, yeah:  It’s a cliché.  But that’s the thing about clichés…often they are just old truths that we need to keep telling each other as reminders.

It’s often really, really little, this loving-kindness thing.  It’s pretty much ordinary and every-day.  Still, loving-kindness is the best way us humans have for connecting with each other.

The original story by Elizabeth Silance Ballard was first published in a 1974 issue of Home Life magazine as “Three Letters from Teddy.”  Over the next three decades it spread, even making an appearance in one of the CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books.  It is a good story.

WHAT IF…?

Here’s another video produced by the Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock, Arkansas that was published on YouTube by Sarheed Jewels in 2011.  It asks:  What if you could see other people’s problems?  How would that affect you?

SEED THOUGHTS

One of the loveliest online sites about loving-kindness in action is the one put up by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK), a group of educators and community leaders led by Gary Dixon who are all dedicated to the proposition that us humans are meant to go around spreading warm fuzzies.  Their mission is to encourage you to go forth and be kind.

The RAKtivists believe that kindness is teachable and contagious.  They can point to a lot of scientific evidence that seems to validate the fact that doing kind things is actually very good for your own health.

Among the findings they highlight are the following facts:

  • Kindness produces oxytocin, the “love hormone.”  Oxytocin, in turn causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide which dilates the blood vessels.  This aids in lowering blood pressure and helps protect the heart  increasing overall heart-health.
  • Harvard Business School did a survey of happiness in 136 countries in 2010 that found that people who were generous financially were happiest overall.
  • People who volunteer tend to experience fewer ache and pains.  One study showed that people 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were at 44 percent more likely to live longer.  Other studies have shown that engaging in acts of kindness produces endorphins – the brain’s natural painkiller.
  • There’s a thing called the “helper’s high,” according to research from Emory University, that is a consequence of the fact that often when you’re kind to someone else your brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up. Maybe that’s because acts of kindness apparently stimulate the feel-good anti-depressant serotonin, which helps to heal wounds, calm you and make you happy.

So…here’s one other benefit to the whole kindness thing:  When you’re kind to somebody else, it just naturally bounces back on you.  And isn’t that a very good thing?

i-give-you-all-i-can
“I Give You All I Can….” by Brandon Warren via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
Here’s a poem:


I PROMISED ME

 

No one ever promised

That life would always be true and fair

Or that there’d be a shelter from the storm,

A warm fire waiting there,

That happy would perch on your head

And belt out one more song,

That reaching out a solid hand

Would find other fingers reaching, just as strong,

That doing good and being kind

Would bring goodness and kindness back,

That celebrating and taking joy

Can disassemble any lack.

 

No one’s ever promised that

‘Cept for some god-mad fool or three.

Now I’m sitting here remembering that

Once upon a time,

Those were all things I promised me.


Header picture credit:  “Be Kind….” by Kate Ter Haar via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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RADICAL GENEROSITY

RADICAL GENEROSITY

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that generosity is not a down-payment on love.  [Generosity is spill-over when you’re feeling full.]

I am reading a book, LOVE LET GO:  Radical Generosity for the Real World, by Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell.  It is a story about an amazing church congregation in Chicago, the LaSalle Street Church, who received a totally unexpected windfall:  a check for $1,530,116.78.

windfall
“Windfalls” by Rhia via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
The check represented the church’s share of proceeds from the sale of an urban property that they had bought in the 1970s with three other churches.  The land had been used for a desperately needed low-income housing project in the neighborhood, Atrium Village, which had served the purpose for more than 25 years.

The church’s heartful investment had been returned…in spades.

This 2017 YouTube video of a “100 Huntley Street” interview with pastor Laura Sumner Truax, one of the authors of the book, is a kind of a teaser for the book.

As Truax says, the church leaders made a wild, counter-intuitive move that changed the game on a clear day in September, 2014.  The leaders used ten percent of the windfall money to tithe back to the church members.  Each church member received a $500 check with the injunction to go out and do good in God’s world.

The leadership of the church also encouraged the members to participating in the effort to study and pray on how they were going to allocate the rest of the windfall funds, the “Big Money.”  More than half of the congregation spent nine months on the project.

The book tells the story of what happened and what the people involved in this exploration learned as a result.  It was and remains an ever-evolving, extraordinary process and journey, one that makes my heart smile.

a-give
“a:give” by John and Aga Brewster via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

THE GIVING CHURCH

LaSalle Street Church was built in 1886 in the near north side of Chicago by Swedish immigrants who never once worshipped in it.  The congregation had been left bankrupt by the effort of its construction.

Its history of hard luck and scarcity continued throughout the church’s long history of involvement with a community that is diverse and sometimes volatile.  One of the primary principles the church has always held to is this:  Giving is better than receiving.

They really did walk their talk even though most of the time the church was, like their neighbors, “just getting by.”

Giving didn’t change the church’s financial circumstances but it did change “the way LaSalle wore its scarcity,” as authors Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell lyrically puts it.  They did it with style and their acts of generosity were truly appreciated.

During the 1960s, when Chicago exploded in the violence and vitriol of the race riots, local youth protected the LaSalle Street Church from burning.  The angry young ones who were pressing for change remembered.  They protected the people who helped them through their hard times.

The church has always been a major light in the community.  Senior citizens who needed company and a meal, the kids looking for sanctuary and a safe place to go after school and residents who were caught up in a legal system they could not navigate all found what they needed at the church.

This video, which was put together by Faustino Productions in 2015, was published on YouTube by tinogon1942.  It shows the aftermath of the Chicago riots on the west side of Chicago after Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968 as the Supreme’s “Stop In the Name of Love” plays.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Chicago officials embraced the concept of urban renewal and started creating high-density, high-rise dwellings like Cabrini-Green and relocated people from the poorer parts of town to these new developments.  The joke going ’round then among the city residents was that the program would have been more aptly named “urban removal.”

In reaction to this government program, LaSalle Street Church’s senior pastor at the time, Bill Leslie, preached a commitment to turf.  La Salle stood at the edge of communities in transition.  On one side, some of the city’s neediest residents lived.  On the other side was some of the most expensive real estate in Chicago.

Leslie thought that the church could be a meeting place where everyone was welcomed.  He and his congregation of fifty-some members believed that at the bottom of it all the church was all about all of us people being in this old mess of a world all together.

The members who were better-off materially saw themselves in their poorer neighbors’ situation.  They understood the struggles and they also believed that they needed their neighbors as much as their neighbors needed them.   They looked for a way to help.

In this they were aided by local congressman Robert L. Thompson, an African-American who was also a long-time resident of the city.  Thompson worried over the impact of urban renewal on the thousands of his constituents who were facing displacement.

When Thompson was offered a bribe of ten thousand dollars to influence the award of the rights to the land occupied by the LaSalle’s row house neighbors, he refused.  Then he called Leslie.

Somehow the congregation found what they thought could be a solution to their neighbor’s problems.  There was a plot of land for sale that sat to the west of the church, juxtaposed against the homes of high society to the east.  It was big enough and near enough for a housing development to which their neighbors could relocate and still be neighbors.

Over the next two months Leslie rallied LaSalle and several other churches to invest one thousand dollars each in a campaign to secure the land rights.  (When you consider that Leslie’s own salary hovered around three thousand dollars at the time, it was a goodly sum of money back then.)

The housing project that grew there, Atrium Village, was the first housing development in the country to be financed and constructed by state, private and church funding.  It took years for all the players to finally agree to the vision of a truly diverse project:  50 percent black and 50 percent white; 50 percent market-rate and 50 percent under-market rate rents.

The first apartment tower was dominated by a nine-story open atrium.  That atrium gave the “village” its name and it lessened a significant fear factor.  The central atrium left no dark hallways in the building.  Light flooded in.

Also, there were glass elevators that allowed light and visibility and the courtyard area around the buildings provided safe places for children to play.

Atrium Village opened to a flood of three thousand applicants.  It became a solid anchor in the community and was a testing ground for finding the best practices for community-based housing.  It was also the first of three building projects the church undertook in the neighborhood, all of which focused on building community engagement among people who were different from one another.

The other two were a building for senior housing and another for a legal-aid clinic.

Here’s a short YouTube video, a for-rent ad for Atrium Village apartments, published in 2012 by apartmenthomelivingA.

THE SALE

In the early 2000s, almost 25 years after Atrium opened its doors, La Salle got word that the primary investor in the development wanted to sell its interest.  The restrictive covenants on Atrium would soon expire without possibility of renewal.  The city was in the process of demolishing Cabrini-Green, the public-housing complex of 30-story buildings that had been a long-time neighborhood fixture.

The new model for government thinking on the public-housing problem was dubbed “scattered site” housing.  Instead of monolithic structures, the vision now was lower-density, low-rise units that served a diverse population – exactly the vision that the people who made Atrium Village happen advocated.

The times they were a-changing…again.

Even though the churches who initiated the Atrium Village project represented only a 15 percent interest in the property, as a voting bloc, they could stop the sale of the property.  Two of the partner churches faced almost certain closure by their denominations because their memberships had dwindled down to mere handfuls.

The church memberships had watched the Cabrini-Green towers come down, knowing that the retail developers were also watching it happen.  Condominiums that cost upwards of half a million dollars were being planned.

The churches, all of whom were like LaSalle and framed their ministry on being bridge churches, understood that their neighborhoods were changing.  They finally reached an agreement to sell their interest while negotiating hard for more units set aside for the working poor.

They were supported in this intention by the Chicago city tax assessor, their local alderman, and various community groups.  Any redevelopment plan would be required to have 20 percent of its units available at below-market rate.

THE REST OF THE STORY….

And so it happened:  the sale, and then the check, and then the tithe from church to its people.

You’ll have to read the book to get the rest of the story.

An interesting history of the church building and the neighborhood provides a glimpse at the background for this story.  Here’s the YouTube video, “130 Years – History of the LaSalle Street Church Sanctuary Building,” which was put together and published by the church in 2016.

Here’s a poem:


A GREAT BLESSING

A great blessing

When good people

Try to help

Correct another mistake

In a long

Line of mistakes.

 

A good feeling

When the world

Rallies ’round one

Who is hurting

One who is

Not as strong

As other ones.

 

Thank you, nakua….

Thank you, world….

Blessings and thanks.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Crater Sunrise,” by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.

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FARM IN THE CITY

FARM IN THE CITY

Japanese farmer-philosopher Masanobu Fukuoda once said, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation of human beings.

THE SEED IS PLANTED

went-to-sleep
“Went to Sleep With 2 Red Pumps, Woke Up With 1” by Ted McGrath via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]
In the poorest postal code in Canada, in the city of Vancouver, the old farmer’s vision has come to ground and taken root in a network of four urban farms located on five acres of reclaimed land.  They call it “SOLE Food Street Farms.”

The name is an acronym.  It arose out of a project, “Saving Our Living Environment” (SOLE), by United We Can, a Vancouver non-profit that operates a recycling program and employs street people and people from the neighborhood to clean up streets and alleys.

Until the farms were able to operate independently, they sheltered under the United We Can umbrella.

The project was spearheaded by visionary farmer and food-growing advocate, Michael Ableman (of Foxglove Farm fame), and his collaborator Seann Dory who worked for United We Can.

They put together a project that provides stable jobs and training and development for 25 people, most of whom live in the neighborhood where they work.  Together they have built an oasis of green in the middle of gray and black city hardscape.

DOWN ON THE FARM

This 2013 video, “The Story of Sole Food,” which was produced by Point Blank Creative with the support of Vancity and is available on YouTube, tells the tale:

The farms have succeeded beyond the two founders’ wildest hopes when they began reclaiming their first piece of ground in the parking lot of the Astoria hotel in Strathcona, the oldest neighborhood in Vancouver (right next door to Downtown Eastside, the poorest postal code in all of Canada.)

  • Every year the farms produce over 25 tons of fresh produce that includes tree fruit from a large urban orchard that grows in an abandoned railway yard.
  • The farms supply more than 30 area restaurants and sell at five Vancouver farmer’s markets. They operate a community-supported agriculture program as well.
  • They donate up to $20,000 work of produce every year to community kitchens.
  • Most importantly, they help their urban neighbors reconnect and re-ground themselves in the age-old cycles of life and growing that every farm honors and celebrates.

After the farm project had been going for several years, the MBA program at Queen’s University conducted research into the uber-local farming enterprise.

The guys in the lab coats figured out that for every dollar SOLE Foods spent on employing people who are “hard to employ,” there was a $1.70 combined savings to the person and the legal system, the health care system, the social assistance networks, and the environment through carbon sequestration and energy and transportation benefits.  A good return-on-investment, that.

empowering-people
“Empowering People With Urban Farming” by Province of British Columbia via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

A TRADITION RE-ITERATED

In his book, STREET FARM:  Growing Food, Jobs, and Hope on the Urban Frontier, Ableman details how the dream came together.

The book is a triumphant mash-up of Ableman’s philosophy about farming as a business and a traditional craft with pictures on every page spread (many of them taken by Ableman) documenting the continuing trials and tribulations of trying to build a real farm in the middle of the big city.   The best parts of the book are the stories about the relationships that have developed between the organizers, the farm workers, their clients, and the Downtown Eastside neighborhoods where they work and live.

If you’d like more information about SOLE Food Street Farms, CLICK HERE.

At the time it began, the scale of the farms was, perhaps, unique.  It was urban agriculture, growing food on a for-real farm that was run as a business with a heavy dose of social consciousness added in.  Many of the earlier efforts by assorted city planners and developers in various cities around the world focused on garden-scale projects – urban horticulture rather than agriculture.

It isn’t a new concept, this growing food in the middle of a city.  As cities grew, the food needed to feed the people was grown all around them.  Sumerians, back in 5000 BCE, were famous for the sophisticated irrigated agriculture in and around some of the world’ earliest cities in what is now southern Iraq.

But, these ancient farmers and all of their descendants in the long history of agriculture did not have farms built on top of pavement covering over the contaminated soil between buildings in the remains of demolished factories and other urban ruins. This is what makes these street farms so remarkable.  What makes them even more remarkable are the number of lives they have touched and the ones they have helped to nurture, heal and rebuild.

Michael Abelman says that SOLE Food Street Farms is “based on the belief that the simple act of planting a seed can bring new life to the world.”

[Amen to that one, braddah.]

“Sunrise at Mt. Haleakala” by D. A. Lewis via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  a tendency to build bridges between your world and other people’s worlds.  [Foot-traffic on all the bridges you build brings many treasures into your world.]

Here’s a poem:


YOUNG TREE

Young tree in the ground

Started as a seed

Buried in the dark, rich,

Warm earth.

 

Slowly it split apart,

Shoot seeking the light,

Pushing against the cradling earth,

Slowly, slowly.

 

It reaches up into the light,

Day by day by day….

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “The Hidden Radish” by Steph L via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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