Month: December 2012

In the holiday season, here’s my idea of the best possible news.

Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, with a gift of personal peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t use a telephone, so when I interviewed him for America Online, I had to pick him up and drive him to the office. TNH practices “walking meditation.” That is, he walks very slowly, breathing very consciously, so that every breath and step become prayers. I knew this. And walked very slowly. But not slowly enough. Every ten paces, I had to stop and go back.

That is not because I am a speedwalker, but because I’m not truly mindful. My loss. For as TNH points out:

The Buddha confirmed that it is possible to live happily in the here and the now — even if you still have lots of pain and sorrow within yourself. Mindful breathing helps you become fully alive. And when you are really there, you can touch all the wonders of life that are available in this very moment for your enjoyment…for your nourishment…and for your healing
.

This is a very happy man presenting a joyous view of life. You think Buddhism is nihilistic because it lacks a God-figure and does not offer a road map to eternal life? Well, listen to this:

This body is not me. I am much more than this body. The space of 50 or 60 or 70 years is not my lifespan. It is not true that I did not exist before I was born. It is not true that I will no longer exist after the disintegration of this body. My ground of being is the reality of no birth, no death. No coming, no going. It is like water is the ground of being of a wave. The wave might be afraid of being or non-being. But if she knows that she is water, she will lose all her fear. Nothing is born…nothing dies. Birth and death cannot really touch us. If you know that, you will be able to enjoy every second of your daily life — even if you are in terminal illness.

I take great comfort in those words. And in the notion that meditation can be as simple as a conscious in-breath, a conscious out-breath. And that the key to everything is to be wide-awake — to be “mindful.” [To buy the paperback of “Essential Writings” from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Who is Thich Nhat Hahn? He became a monk in Vietnam at 16. He studied Zen (no, Zen is not just a Japanese strain of Buddhism), but in an “engaged” form, so, in the early 1960s, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services — a Vietnamese Peace Corps — to help his war-battered countrymen. A university and a magazine followed.

In 1966, TNH’s non-violent appeals caused him to be exiled from Vietnam. He taught at Columbia University, then founded a retreat in rural France called Plum Village. He comes to America about once a year and gives lectures in a voice so quiet and peaceful you have to lean in to hear him.

His themes resonate deeply for me:

Do not be bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones… Avoid being narrow-minded… Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge…. Do not force others to adopt your views… Do not avoid contact with suffering…. Do not maintain anger or hatred… Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature.

Dreamer? TNH is the ultimate realist. “Do not believe that I feel that I follow these precepts perfectly,” he says. “I know I fail in many ways. However, I must work toward a goal. These are my goals. No words can replace practice, only practice can make the words.”

It has long been clear to me that this peace starts with the personal — before I can help others create peace, I must be at peace within myself. Over time, I have found that TNH is the teacher who best helps me do this. Maybe you will find that to be true for you as well.

TNH is prolific. Where to start? Easy: a 163-page paperback, “The Essential Writings.”

The language of kindness

Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. I know that everyone is very busy with the holidays but I wanted to share this lovely Mark Twain quote with you all.

The holiday season is always jam-packed with events and parties and obligations. I find myself rushing from one place to another, and this year even more than usual with my impending move. It’s so worth it to take the time to look around and identify all the kindness that surrounds us.


And the thing is that kindness is present in the small things. It does not need grand gestures or heaps of money. It can be as simple as texting your best friend to let him or her know you’re thinking about them, making your partner or parents a cup of tea, giving your sibling an extra big hug when you see them.

Happy holidays everyone!

 

Image credit: here

Christmas in a Book

Some of my favorite books as a child were literal picture books – no words, just pictures. Every time you “read” the book you make up a different story to go with the pictures.

This is kind of like that.

Yusuke Oono created a cut paper book that captures a bit of Christmas.

I love this so much, it is beautiful and delicate, elegant and festive, a perfect snippet of Christmas.

I can imagine using this book to invent a story, maybe a new one each year.

I also love how tiny it is – just a little snippet, small enough to fit in a pocket.

 

Have a magical Tuesday,

Sarah from Design Flourishes

all images from here

via My Modern Met

Twenty-six names

Hello English Muse readers! Karen from A Simple Cup of Tea once again. There is not much I can say about what happened in Connecticut right now. I tried at my blog but don’t feel like I was very succesful.

So instead of rambling on in my own words I wanted to share this beautifully moving tribute that Jason Robert Brown wrote for the 26 victims of the Newtown shooting. It made me tear up, mostly because he finally puts the attention where it should be: with those lovely children and adults who lost their lives on Friday.

I hope you all had a peaceful and loving weekend.

 

Picture credit: here

Tradition

December is many things for me.  For most of my twenty-four years of life, it has meant a break from school.  It means an excuse to buy those little things that remind me of the people I love and an excuse to visit the bookstore an extra time or two on the pretense of purchasing gifts for others.  And every year, when I finish classes, it means I take a little trip to my favorite bookstore and pick out something fun to read.

It’s a little out of my way, so I don’t get there too often and each visit is special.  I don’t care much for driving and especially don’t care for driving in traffic; thus, winding my way through the Highlands and up Frankfort Avenue is a little bit of an adventure in testing my nerves.  Thank goodness I don’t live in a bigger city.  When I arrive and park just down the street, I always breathe a little sigh of relief and feel a slightly childish grin creep across my face: I’m here, and I’m not leaving without a new (used) book!

As soon as I enter, I tend to forget exactly which book I am looking for and get distracted by the shelves of fiction and poetry and everything else.  On my visit last week, after I had gone to my very last class of the semester, I picked up at least ten or so books before I spotted The Tiger’s Wife on a shelf and remembered that I put it on my to-read list a year ago.  I had just enough cash on hand for one title, so with a sigh of resignation, I only bought that one book.  Thankfully, it’s been quite a good one.

Do you have any favorite places to find books?  And do you also get lost in the shelves?

 

Until next Thursday, now that I have time to write again…

Katie

(Unwritten, Untitled)

23 Minutes of Holiday Magic For Children (and Adults Who Can Still Dream)

Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, this week raving about an astonishingly great animated film.

The best holiday stories are fables. “Believe,” they instruct us. “Love,” they dare us. “Trust,” they implore us.

And the child in us — connecting with the child who inspired the holiday — responds. “Yes,” we say, eyes misting, because we so want it to be true. And because, looking down at our kids, we feel we know that it is true.

Sometimes the fables work right through the holidays. Sometimes they inspire us whenever we dip into them.

Chris van Allsburg’s classic Polar Express has that power.

And so, in spades, does “The Snowman.”

The 23-minute animated film was adapted in 1982 from the 32-page book by Raymond Briggs.

Don’t know Briggs? There’s a reason. He’s English — and he works as a freelance illustrator, book designer and writer of what are known as “children’s books.” They’re anything but. Oh, kids adore them — when our daughter was 3, she could watch “The Snowman” half a dozen times — but they function quite well, or maybe even better, as books for adults. [To buy the DVD from Amazon, click here.]

The first reason for the appeal of “The Snowman” is its deceptively simple story. A boy in rural England builds a snowman. At midnight, as the boy looks out his window, the snowman lights up. The boy runs outside. He invites the snowman to tour his home. Then the snowman takes his hand. And off they fly, over England, over water, to the North Pole.

Santa gives the boy a scarf. The boy and the snowman fly home. As the boy is going inside, the snowman waves — a wave of goodbye. The boy rushes into his arms and hugs him. The next morning, the snowman’s just a few lumps of coal and an old hat.

Did that magical night really happen? The boy reaches into his pocket and finds the scarf. He drops to his knees and, almost as an offering, places it by the snowman’s hat.

A desolate ending? Yes and no. Yes, if you get stuck on the facts: the boy’s alone again. No, if you are taken by the boy’s magical experience with a special, secret friend — he’s been given a night of exquisite sweetness that will forever be his to cherish. That’s not too deep for kids; they’ll be more fixated on the magic than its loss.

Then there is the artistry. This is not machine-driven animation — Briggs works with colored pencil. “I once kept a record of the time it took to do two pages,” he told an interviewer. “Penciling — 20 hours. Inking — 18 hours. Coloring — 25 hours. And all that’s after months of getting ideas, writing and planning.”

And the feelings in “The Snowman” couldn’t be more personal. The boy’s house? That is Briggs’s own house and garden in Sussex. The flight over the South Downs and the top of Brighton ‘s Royal Pavilion to Brighton Pier — those are old Briggs haunts.

The final appeal is to beauty. The film begins with Briggs walking across a field, talking about the snowstorm. From then on, the film is silent, except for a song. It is called “Walking In The Air,” and it is life-changing — the sequence when the boy and the snowman start to fly and the song comes in is one of the greatest moments in film. Period.

I once had a job helping several hundred people be better writers. There were two hobby-horses I rode continually: “Whenever you use the word ‘hopefully,’ you are using it incorrectly. And there is no such thing as ‘perfect.’” I was wrong. There is perfect. “The Snowman” defines it.

Making snail mail pretty

Hi there, it’s Naomi Bulger from Messages in Bottles. Today I wanted to share with you some happy mail that I’ve been sending out to readers of my blog. I love to draw little pictures on the envelopes, and I try to make them as special as possible with string and wax seals and different things. I like to imagine what it must be like to receive something like this in the mail, instead of just the usual bills (if your mailbox is anything like mine).

I have a couple of pen pals and receiving mail from them makes my day (week, month). And in sending out these packages, I’ve learned just how many more of us out there long for the old days of snail mail. There is something so special and tangible about actually getting a real letter in the mail. Taking your time with it. Sitting down with a cup of tea and reading it slowly.

Plus, every time I send out more packages with pictures on them like these, it makes the lady in the post office smile.

%d bloggers like this: