Photo by Peter Cunningham

Some 5 days ago I presented a short excerpt from a dialogue in a neighborhood e-list about our local Greenfield theater showing a movie claiming fraud in the 2020 elections. It elicited at least 250 back-and-forths, about 100 times the average, and included indignation, anger, threats of boycott, ideological lobs out of left and right fields (someone demanded to know what the US is doing in North Korea), etc. It also elicited moderate and reasonable responses from both ends of the political spectrum, but I found myself shaking my head and almost quit the site right there.

Yesterday I received an email from a reader in Germany who responded somewhat gloomily to this post, and ended the email by writing: “Let’s enjoy the world before it’s getting worse.”

As I often remind people, each of us is responsible for his/her state of mind. Mine doesn’t depend on life out there, on newspaper headlines or the TV, it depends on me. There are ups and downs, and being human, I’m glad and lighthearted when life goes up and grim or heavy when it goes down, but I take very seriously the practice of keeping a clear mind and an open heart regardless of what happens.

The way I do that is paying attention to what I pay attention to. Comes the morning, after meditation, feeding Aussie, and lighting incense at the feet of Kwan-yin outside, I look at the news. In fact, I do that several times a day, absorbing information about the world, but only at prescribed times. I’m very aware of the impact made by dramatic and threatening headlines even the best newspapers now carry. I use the New York Review of Books to get longer, more in-depth analyses of international stories but won’t read their articles on our own politics anymore; I need more variety than what they give.

I write this to show that I don’t hide my brain under the blanket, I search out information about what happens in the world. But I’m also careful how much attention I give it, and how much attention I give other things.

Last Friday, Peter Cunningham and I went to the funeral service for the brother of a dear friend. It took place at Camphill Village in Copaque, in New York’s Hudson Valley. My friend’s brother had lived in Camphill Village for over 40 years since he’d been born with Down Syndrome almost 60 years ago.

There was no guard at the entrance to the Village, covering some 615 acres of farmland. The grounds were clean and green, grass sparkling under the sun. We met at the Village’s bakery and cafe, and proceeded from there to the chapel.

I believe there are some 20 Village homes, each housing 5-7 “villagers.” Villagers are adults with Down Syndrome or other disabilities. In Camphill they’re seen as partners in a multi-ethnic, diverse community, living alongside able couples with children, volunteers, students, and interns, many of whom come from Europe.

Camphill was founded some 80 years ago by the Austrian Karl Konig. A refugee from Austria after the Nazis entered Austria and deeply influenced by Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, Konig started the Camphill Movement of Villages as a way of not hiding and separating people with developmental disabilities from the rest of the world, but rather as a place honoring each one’s uniqueness and essential wholeness as an individual, as a human. People with a varied level of abilities live together, work in organic gardens and with domestic animals, cook and bake, eat together, and create music and art together. Everyone is encouraged to fulfill their potential every single day.

The chapel filled up with hundreds of people, some in wheelchairs helped along the rows by one or two assistants. A small choir sang beautifully. When the minister began describing the life of the man who was now gone, the crying and weeping began.

This wasn’t the dignified, silent tears we shed in most of our controlled, careful gatherings, the ones we call grown-up, this was wailing from the marrow, mourning the empty space once inhabited by a very special human being who was no longer here, sobbing openly because he was already missed and would never be coming back. They held hands and cried on each other’s shoulders, weeping in the face of death and love all at the same time.

When the service was done, the coffin was taken upstairs and put in back of a station wagon, and everyone followed and formed a circle. They contemplated the departing body and sang goodbye to it, and as the car slowly pulled away, they shouted out goodbye and how much they love him.

After that, strangers came to me to tell me how much they will miss their friend and full of questions: How well did I know him? How far back? What stories did I have to tell? With no hesitation they fell into my arms, weeping. There we were, hugging closely inside a raw and sacred space of love that can exist even between two people who’ve never met before. Everything was possible in that space—friendship, forgiveness, vulnerability, loss, love. Soon I realized I didn’t need to comfort anyone; they were comforting me.

We drove home a little stunned, I think. It was hard to talk about what we’d experienced, only in the deepest part of me, I knew all was well.

The very next day, walking the dogs on our Montague Plains, I ran into a woman and made my usual loud announcement that Henry and Aussie were friendly. She assured me she had a dog back home. She left him at home because he’s still too scared to leave the house. He’d been rescued from an Oklahoma house where he’d been caged up for 3 years, never once going out. Other animals, too, had been caged there. She adopted him and brought him here. Now, six months later, he’s gotten mellower and less fearful, and still won’t leave the house.

She’s not giving up. I gave her the contact information for Leeann Warner, Aussies favorite human in the whole wide world and a superb dog trainer. It was clear that this woman, who didn’t have many resources, was going to do everything in her power to heal him.

“It’s the black-and-white colors,” she said, shaking her head with a smile. “He’s just the cutest thing.”

After we parted, I reflected on how many rescue dogs receive such good care. At times they come to us scared and shivering, or else aggressive and unpredictable, and we get help to take care of them, giving them the patience and love they need to heal. I wish we could do that to humans, too, instead of sending them to prison.

These are the events I pay much more attention to than newspaper headlines. It’s how I keep my heart open. And if you think they’re small, think again. Generous acts and ways of life resonate on levels we can’t fathom, firing off reciprocal actions and transformations across many dimensions. Just because they’re less visible doesn’t mean they’re less potent.

And just in case you still don’t know what to pay attention to, how about this: Jimena had reserved 9 spots in Camp Keewanee for children from immigrant families, where they could go for 3 weeks while their parents worked in the farms. When I met and talked to her last week, she had no money for any. Tomorrow, I’ll give her $4,725 for 9 children to go swimming every day, play group games, sing and color, and do all the silly, wonderful things children love to do in summer. The money for that came from you. Pay attention to that and see what happens to your heart then.

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