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Esteemed Reader

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PHOTO BY MARK KAUFMAN
  • photo by Mark Kaufman
Everybody's got a hungry heart
Everybody's got a hungry heart
Lay down your money and you play your part
Everybody's got a hungry heart
—Bruce Springsteen

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

I am writing this missive on the eve of the solstice. As winter begins I feel some solace in the imminent lengthening of albeit colder, grayer days, and with it, a surrender to the contraction of the season. Here is where the seeds of dynamic experience go underground, into the fertile darkness, inert and rife with potential.

At the end of the year three themes stand out, like swollen, pulsing veins bulging from my skin.

1) Be kind.

This came to light a few months ago when I realized that no matter how many reasons I have to feel frustrated, angry, or spiteful—no matter how well-justified my case against anyone—I have the choice to be kind.

To be clear, the kindness I refer to is radical and self-challenging. Its practice dictates being in and staying present in relationship, open-hearted and alert. Kindness doesn't mean I am nice in a conventional sense. It means conducting myself in a way that is appropriate and respectful. If I am asked a question, I answer fully. If I need to say something or point something out, I say it, no more, and no less. Kindness means resisting the temptation to inwardly or outwardly either boycott or promote, reject or accept another person, and instead to remain steadfastly present, in this moment, together.

Recognizing that kindness is a choice irrespective of circumstances, the next thing was to see that the choice is not automatically renewable. I couldn't rest on any laurels and the kindness I sought to embody didn't happen by itself, even if I had had some insight about it in the past. Ironically, the realization not only didn't make things easier; rather it opened up a whole new sphere of work. It charged me with a new responsibility—to always be striving.

Such is the beautiful, harsh unfolding of a realization. A new insight needs to be tilled back into the soil as fertilizer. Each new perception comes with a packet of energy, its own treasure, which must then and there be reinvested in a renewed effort to perceive.

Which leads me to the second theme that has begun to function like another foot enabling an activity that is something like walking.

2) Whatever you do, do it well.

This admonition sounds like a cliché—like one of those character-building principles from a book by Napoleon Hill—and yet I'm finding renewed help in its simple formulation. The help I'm receiving is in the spirit of the first theme, which is to say, "Whatever you do, do it as service."

In this sense I recognize that I am always embodying something, some quality. Inasmuch as what I have to contribute in service to an event is what I'm doing, it is equally what I'm being. In fact, I think, the doing and the being are inseparable.

When I do something well or poorly, it conducts a corresponding quality of integrity or disintegration. Those around me can feel that I am on or off my game, and taking my role seriously or sloppily. When I pay attention to my work, my work emanates attention. Not only is the product imbued with the vibrational signature of mindfulness, but so too do the other people in my environment participate in the vortex of attentive work.

This plays out in all the roles we undertake to inhabit in life. Some are more essential and grounded, and others are more superficial, and in either case we can strive to play the role sincerely and with the greatest effectiveness; strive to play the role wholeheartedly, mindfully, and with creativity and sincerity. The ability to fully play a role is a great freedom, for it can show that a person's sense of self is removed from the activity, and centered more deeply in being.

A further aim is suggested in the teachings of Karma yoga, which direct us to act and dedicate the fruits of action to the totality. Do whatever you do well, truly as well as you can, but not for personal glory, and without attachment to the fruits of action. Work for the sake of the work, whatever that work may be. Recognize that all the world and all its roles are an illusion, but at the same time see that it is on this plane that we have to live as best we can, and that reality is always being shown here.

This is expressed in the first line of the Eesha Upanishad, a very old Vedic text:

Claim nothing; enjoy, do not covet anything. Then hope for a hundred years of life doing your duty. No other way can prevent deeds from clinging.

3) The world is where I am now.

This final new year's theme is contextual. It is to remember that where I can help or have an effect on the world begins within myself and emanates outward. It is to recognize that it is in each relationship with each precious person in each precious moment that I am plugged into the larger world; to see that it is in the quality of my relating to every little thing in discrete moments that I can add a nutritive and harmonizing influence to the whole organism of humanity and beyond.

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