B4Peace – ART for PEACE in May

Peace and quiet cropped small

Keeping Quiet 

Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda

—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)

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This beautiful poem by Neruda is found at the end of the transcript of an extraordinary interview with Sylvia Boorstein — a celebrated Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist. She was interviewed by Krista Tippett for American Public Media (APM) (here is the complete transcript).

Here an excerpt that I find especially pertinent for Peace for the month of May:

Dr. Boorstein: What seems most clear to me is that children pick up what their parents live. My friend Jim Finley, who’s a Christian contemplative psychotherapist, said, “I learned to pray sitting next to my mother in church.” And what I understood from him is that he didn’t learn the words of the prayer; he learned the feelings out of her body as she sat there. I think that children learn that from us.

Spirituality doesn’t look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you’ve had a long day. Or even saying to them, “Listen, I’ve had such a long day, but it would be really wonderful if I could just fold these — I’d really love folding these towels quietly if you all are ready to go bed without me,” or whatever it is.

But I — I actually think that spiritual parenting — people often say to me, “I have so many things that take up my day. I don’t have time to take up a spiritual practice.” And the thing about being a parent who might think of themselves as a wise parent or a spiritual parent doesn’t take extra time. It’s enfolded into the act of parenting. You fold the towels in a sweet way. It doesn’t take extra time.

Ms. Tippett: So Sylvia, one thing following on that. Lovingkindness meditation is also towards one’s self. You share a story in your writing about precisely that, but you share what you often say to yourself when you’re in a moment of anxiety. OK. So I think this is just great advice. I’m going to hang onto this. “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax, take a breath, let’s pay attention to what is happening, then we’ll figure out what to do.” I think that’s a fabulous sentence for one’s self and for one’s children.

Dr. Boorstein: I’m so pleased that you found that. It’s tremendously pleasing to me because I meet people in some significant numbers who tell me that they say to themselves in moments of distress. I say — they say, “I say to myself, ‘Sweetheart, you’re in pain. Relax, take a breath.'” I love that. A whole bunch of people out there saying to themselves, “Sweetheart.”

Ms. Tippett: As I promised, I want to end with a poem. We’re going to let Pablo Neruda have the last word, because you mentioned this in your writing as a poem that you always have with you. And I printed it out and I — I think it’s beautiful and I wonder if you’d give that — leave that as a gift for all the rest of us.

Dr. Boorstein: This is called “Keeping Quiet”.

Keeping Quiet

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973)

—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)

16 thoughts on “B4Peace – ART for PEACE in May

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  3. Lovingly folding the towels, yes. It’s like creating origami using terry cloth as a medium. 🙂

    This reminds me of the saying, “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

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  5. Wow this whole post, from the poem to spiritual parenting to the lovingkindess of calling myself sweetheart when I’m in pain and back to the poem again…this entire post is so especially relevant. I needed to read this. Thank you.

  6. ” huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death” – moved me to tears. Kind of sums it all up pretty much wouldn’t you say. He was such a brilliant poet.

    • I agree with Alison. That line hit me right in the heart.
      I love Sylvia Boorstein’s “spiritual parenting.” Makes me want to fold the towels with lovingkindness. Thank you, Tomas, for sharing so much peace in this post. {{{hugs}}} Kozo

      • I especially thought of you when I read that part on Spiritual Parenting – goes well together with Thich Nhat Hanh’s words on “Presence” being the most valuable Present! 🙂 tomas ♥

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