Friday, July 23, 2010

READING REFLECTIONS ON THE ART OF LIVING

For the past week, we’ve enjoyed a flurry of social activities honoring friends from Washington, D.C. – my good friend, Jane Bonin, and her beau Freddie Begun. Jane is a retired Peace Corps director who worked in Malawi and other parts of Africa, and Freddie is a retired tympani performer with the National Symphony in Washington, D.C. for 48 years. Jane now refers to their visit on The Mountain as her visit “to the country” where she stayed in the home of her daughter, Knowles, and son-in-law Bill. The Writers Conference and Music Festival were in session, so Jane and Freddie enjoyed a “gracious plenty” of culture in our village here on The Mountain before winging back to Washington. The Mountain has been very quiet, too quiet, since Jane and Freddie departed, and we miss their witty repartee and lively interest in all things “Sewaneean,” as well as the food sampling we enjoyed during their visit.

Today, I returned to our more habitual daily pattern of meditation, chapel attendance, reading, and writing. One of the books that almost leaped out of the bookcase this morning was REFLECTIONS ON THE ART OF LIVING by Joseph Campbell, published in 1991 and written during Campbell’s month-long stay at the Esalen Institute near Big Sur, California. The reflections were selected and edited by Diane Osbon, and the quotation preceding the first chapter sorta’ spoke to my time with an old friend this past week. It reads: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are,” and I might add, “and being with someone who is being who she is.” Good friends are like that – comfortable to be with because they’re truly being who they are, and they invite you to be the same.

In antithesis to this idea of good friends being who they really are is the person who seems to make social exchange very difficult. Campbell advises that when we’re with those people, we should listen when they speak, not to the words, but to WHAT is talking. He adds that “it is usually pride, malice, or ignorance.” For instance, “when someone tells us that we’re selfish, it’s often because we aren’t doing what they want us to do.”

One year during the 90’s, we visited Big Sur for the umpteenth time, and while there, we decided to board a van and drive into the entrance to Esalen Institute. Our intent was to tour the facilities, but once we entered the parking lot, a man rushed out, waving his arms and directing us to turn around as we were on private property. For all we knew, Campbell may have been there, working on the dialogues for this book I’m now reading. He was possibly sitting among those who were meditating on one of his aphorisms: “The first half of life we serve society – engagement. The second half of life we turn inward – disengagement.”

An interesting story derived from Campbell’s work is the one about his life during the Great Depression when he wrote that no one wants a person to do what he wants to do; they want him to go on THEIR trip. However, he can do what he wants to do anyway. Indeed, Campbell did. He went into the woods and read for five years, holed up in a shack in Woodstock, New York. He survived without a job the entire five years. His premise was that if you’re on your own path, things will come to you, and, then, everything that happens to you is a surprise and is timely.
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