A flock of eight Pine Siskins is visiting the porch feeders this morning under the muted grey sky. Fires have broken out Saturday night down in Boulder. I cannot help but think of more animals losing their homes.
I feel grateful for peace in our mountain valley, and turn my attention, instead, to the writings of the late Thich Nhat Hanh. I don’t consider myself a practitioner or even an adept meditator, but like to keep working at it. I also like the way his words make me feel. His writings on the Fourteen Precepts of the Order of Interbeing bring something to mind:
“9. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred.” ~ Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
It makes me think: Why does anyone read a certain author, article, or book?
Personally, I read for two reasons: first to learn about the world around me and all that’s happening therein; and second for the way it makes me feel.
It’s for the second reason that I want to invite readers to explore this question. With a cacophony of events demanding our attention, I like to think that there are women and enlightened men who would resonate with the second sentiment:
We read for the way it makes us feel.
Two of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott and Elizabeth Gilbert, live in the penthouse of my awareness. I strive to dive deeply into any one subject about which I write, but they both do so with the effortless flow of an Olympic high-diver. They surface with a stream of beautiful words and phrases, infusing gentleness and light. Tenderness and quiet understanding emanate as sunlight reflecting from a crystal in a southern summertime window:
“Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” ~ Anne Lamott
Equally, Elizabeth Gilbert whispers:
“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art…”
I feel a balm where before I might have felt disturbance, turmoil, or even, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, a tangle of unpleasant emotions. None of which is hard to feel as a sensitive empath. It’s why I choose carefully that which I read. I believe everyone would agree that on some level, what we choose to read—and the way something is written—affects us emotionally and psychologically, if we pay careful attention.
It also reminds me of one of my classes at the University of Colorado, “Arguments in Scientific Writing.” That semester, I struggled with writing about the plight of wolves from both sides of the aisle—wolf-lovers and known wolf-haters, mostly ranchers. As I strove for the mediated point, the middle way became more apparent—it was all about love and loss.
On both sides of the aisle. Love and loss of wolves. Love and loss of a lifestyle and for prize-winning cattle.
All, in a mosaic, imperfectly human way, expressing a love for animals. The point being, which you might already comprehend, is that I had to dive deep under all the layers and arguments to find a common ground somewhere. I was forced by hand and want for a good grade, to embrace nonviolent language as well, something as counterintuitive as accepting the heartrending reality of the homeless dog population.
When it comes to reading—and writing—language is as vital to our mindset as consumption of healthy food is to our physical selves. It’s what we’re taking into our bodies, hearts, and minds—and it impacts our entire being.
It also affects how we interact with and feel about others.
Thus, the reason for joining this Elephant Journal community—for how it makes me feel. If I want facts and details on the invasion of Ukraine, I’ll read The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. But if I want to understand how others are feeling and what others are thinking about how they are impacted in our messy, tumultuous world, I find connection herein. If I want to hear about how fellow animal-lovers or sensitives are feeling about the threats to humans and animals alike in Ukraine or the psychological effects of grappling with climate change, I tune in here to find resonance.
All of us are trying to find our way forward and choose which concerns will be ours for the day. And some of us do so more elegantly than others.
Still, in all, I feel it’s our responsibility to help each other along, to be supportive and gracious when we can. The world is far too high-conflict to be anything but.
Equally and consistently with some of my favorite authors, writers, I believe, have a responsibility for the tone in which we write. We have a burden to not simply demonstrate authority on any one particular subject. We live to express, certainly, but when we affect others, we must deliver our words in a way that contributes to building a better human community.
We could all pause to turn our attention to the narrative in Russia, for an extreme example, of how language and narrative impacts our very tender human souls.
I think everyone would agree that there is a deluge of trauma, conflict, and divisive material that is making many of us feel more isolated, lonely, scared, or angry. Not one of us needs more of the same that is found elsewhere in less mindful communities.
It’s why I find this place a worthy one in which to expend my time energy.
May I help make any one of my readers feel the same. In celebration of our efforts to be, in the words of my sweet friend Melissa, Next Level Humans, no matter the thorny path in our lives.