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John Roosevelt Boettiger
Mill Valley, CA, Seattle, WA, Phoenix, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Amherst, MA, Hyde Park, NY, New York City (Manhattan), Dedham, MA, Vikersund, Norway, Paris, France, Sebastopol, CA, Berkeley, CA
Author, writer, editor, psychologist, father, grandfather, great-grandfather
Interests: Writing, reading, conversation, hiking, walking, bicycling, asking and responding to intriguing questions, metta, silence, prayer, meditation, justice (social, economic, judicial, political, familial, personal), the wily craft of coyote politics, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, family trees, redwood trees and live oaks, marsh land, hillsides, mountains, geese in flight, birds of a feather
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Christian Wiman is a poet and former editor of Poetry magazine. He was born in what he described as “a flat little sandblasted town in West Texas: pump jacks and pickup trucks, . . . a dying strip, a lively dump, and above it all a huge blue and boundless void that I never really noticed until I left, when it began to expand alarmingly inside of me... People were tough as old mesquite trees, and just as vulnerable to the spiritual elements—bare, forked creatures before a quite palpable and demanding God. I admire that intensity now, and miss it. Of course there were also plenty of self-righteous zealots and fire-eyed maniacs, who also seem to thrive in waste places. Them I don’t miss so much." For years he traveled the world – from Guatemala to the Czech Republic – devoting himself to the craft of poetry. He has published several books of poetry, translated the poetry of Osip Mandelstam, and written an eloquent and widely admired collection of reflections on the relation of poetry and religious faith, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer (Farrar, Straus Giroux, 2013). The novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, author of the novels... Continue reading
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Camille Seaman I've only begun to explore Camille Seaman's photographs. I am dumbfounded by their beauty and moved by the way she describes her mission: "The thread that ties all my photographic projects together is my desire to create images that articulate that humans are not separate from nature and that everything is interconnected, inter-related." Listening (to her TED talks) and seeing her photographs, I was reminded of a suggestion given me a few days ago by a friend: read Paul Kingsnorth's essay "The Axis and the Sycamore" in the January-February issue of Orion Magazine. A comment about Kingsnorth's essay by an Australian geoscientist, Glenn Albrecht, led me to Albrecht's blog, in which he explores an imagined eventual transition from the current Anthropocene to what he would call the Symbiocene: "The concept is derived from the term ‘symbiosis’ which itself is derived from the Greek sumbiosis (companionship), sumbion (to live together) sumbios (living together) and, of course, bios (life). The scientific meaning of symbiosis implies living together for mutual benefit. As a core aspect of ecological and evolutionary thinking symbiosis affirms the interconnectedness of life within the variety [of] all living things. I wish to use this profoundly important concept... Continue reading
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Why on earth did it take me so many years to discover John O'Donohue? For a rich perspective on his life and work, see www.johnodonohue.com. Many of the selections below are taken from that source. He was a remarkable man, "born in 1956, into a native Gaelic speaking family, on the farm inhabited by previous generations in the Burren Region of County Clare, Ireland. As the oldest of four children, he learned to work alongside his parents and uncle, developing a close kinship with the wild landscape, framed by an ethereal view of a limestone valley and the beckoning waters of Galway Bay. This valley was the shell of John's soul, forging a deep and powerful connection with the elements shaping him. He was educated at the local primary school, alternating his studies with the farm chores of tending livestock, raising crops and carving peat for fuel, in his youth. John later described the profound influence of his childhood home as, "A huge wild invitation to extend your imagination…an ancient conversation between the land and sea." "My earliest memories are of the landscape of The Burren in the west of Ireland. The Burren is an ancient kingdom of limestone sculptures... Continue reading
About 25 years ago, in his book Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore suggested that the greatest malady of our time was neither heart disease nor cancer, but loss of soul: loss of wisdom about it, loss of interest in it. “When soul is neglected,” he wrote, “it doesn’t just go away; it appears symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, violence, and loss of meaning.” While Moore warned against efforts at precise definition, he associates the word soul with depth and authenticity in our lives. As such, the expression of soul is present in our ordinary daily rounds−our work, love and play−as well as in rare moments of dramatic crisis, insight or vision. The practices most commonly devoted to the cultivation of soul, its renewal and redemption, are imagination, contemplation and meditation. My model of a place dedicated to such crafts – the one I know best – is the Meditation Room at The United Nations in New York City. It was designed by Dag Hammarskjöld when he was the UN’s Secretary General. He described it as a space “dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense. We want to bring back, in this room, the stillness... Continue reading
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When I was a child and imagined being a grown-up, there were two vocations about which I dreamed: I would be an architect or a forest ranger. The architect I imagined was a designer of homes, each of three sides, surrounding a capacious patio, looking out upon wild greensward, bushes, granite and tall trees. My family moved often during those years, and I think I was designing a home where we would stay. As a forest ranger I lived at the top of a tower surrounded on all sides by endless forest, and my task was to watch keenly for the danger of fire. Both of these visions of a future life looked out upon trees. For as long as I can remember, I have felt a deep kinship: climbed them, talked with them, swung under their boughs, softened in their shade, sat reading against their trunks. Trees have been my brethren. No surprise, surely, that I find myself living in a community called The Redwoods. And no surprise, either, to find my wise age-mate Parker Palmer discovering later in life a similar kinship. I have no doubt of the answer to the question he asks himself: "I wonder if... Continue reading
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I urge readers of Reckonings to listen to Pope Francis's TED Talk on 26 April, as I found what he had to say wise and moving. You can read his remarks at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/pont-messages/2017/documents/papa-francesco_20170426_videomessaggio-ted-2017.html. But it is more valuable to see and hear him, and for that, go to https://www.ted.com/talks/pope_francis_why_the_only_future_worth_building_includes_everyone?language=en. James Carroll's response below will give you a sense, but please take the time to see Francis himself. As Carroll says: "He speaks, yes, as a Christian, but also as a moral voice that history has wondrously lifted up. 'The future does have a name, and its name is hope,' he said. 'A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ ' Then begins the longed-for revolution, which Francis presumes to label 'a revolution of tenderness.' That no other world figure talks this way, in TED or out, is not the problem. It’s the point." Two Scenes from Pope Francis’s Revolution of Tenderness by James Carroll May 1, 2017 Did the conservative, crimson-garbed men who elevated Pope Francis to the papacy, in 2013, know what they were getting? In... Continue reading
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Our sangha, or meditation group, which I had the privilege of leading last Saturday, devoted some discussion time to the theme of mindful caregiving, essentially how our regular meditation practice becomes embodied in our relationships with others. I wanted to add to this page some of the insights that arose in that discussion. Why is it so important that we practice with others, in a sangha? And how do we take our meditation practice from our sangha into the rest of our lives, particularly when we are caring for others? It is the central question of the book we have begun to read together, Frank Ostaseski's The Five Invitations. First, one of the comments that has long been attributed to the Buddha himself: One of his followers said in praise of sangha, “Relationship must be half of the experience of our practice. The Buddha responded, “No. Relationship is the whole of our practice.” Compassion is an essential spiritual teaching, not only in Buddhism but in other traditions as well. Literally it means to suffer with, but in practice, compassion is a response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help them. So there is an implied other,... Continue reading
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We see you, see ourselves and know That we must take the utmost care And kindness in all things. Eagle Poem To pray you open your whole self To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon To one whole voice that is you. And know there is more That you can't see, can't hear Can't know except in moments Steadily growing, and in languages That aren't always sound but other Circles of motion. Like eagle that Sunday morning Over Salt River. Circles in blue sky In wind, swept our hearts clean With sacred wings. We see you, see ourselves and know That we must take the utmost care And kindness in all things. Breathe in, knowing we are made of All this, and breathe, knowing We are truly blessed because we Were born, and die soon, within a True circle of motion, Like eagle rounding out the morning Inside us. We pray that it will be done In beauty. In beauty. ~ Joy Harjo ~ (How We Become Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2001) Continue reading
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It was February or March of 1936. Her name was Florence Owens Thompson. She was 32 years old, caring for her seven children, eking out a living at that moment picking peas in fields near Nipomo, California. Twenty-four years later Dorothea Lange wrote of her memory of their encounter in front of the tent in which the family lived: "I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it." Lange's documentary photographic work... Continue reading
Yes, like the Camphill movement, more analogous if Camphill were devoted to the healing and well-being of those suffering from psychiatric disorders or working in the helping professions (like social workers, physicians, nurses, pastors or other clergy); and of course Modum Bad is a single campus for residents and caregivers, coming from all over Norway, with a satellite out-patient clinic in Oslo. Many of Modum Bad's professional staff write or co-author publications that are usually published first in-country, then in English-language journals with readers throughout the world. Although all Norwegians are English-literate, that last transition, from Norwegian to English of professional quality, is where my current work continues. There are pro translating outfits, but not specifically psychologists or psychiatrists, and they are usually more expensive than I am!
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Waiting, praying, breathing without pain, It is called happiness. Time offers this gift in its millions of ways, turning the world, moving the air, calling, every morning, "Here, take it, it's yours." The Gift Time wants to show you a different country. It's the one that your life conceals, the one waiting outside when curtains are drawn, the one Grandmother hinted at in her crochet design, the one almost found over at the edge of the music, after the sermon. It's the way life is, and you have it, a few years given. You get killed now and then, violated in various ways. (And sometimes it's turn about.) You get tired of that. Long-suffering, you wait and pray, and maybe good things come − maybe the hurt slackens and you hardly feel it any more. You have a breath without pain. It is called happiness. It's a balance, the taking and passing along, the composting of where you've been and how people and weather treated you. It's a country where you already are, bringing where you have been. Time offers this gift in its millions of ways, turning the world, moving the air, calling, every morning, "Here, take it, it's... Continue reading
Last week, as I wrote here on Sunday, March 5th, our meditation together focused on the meaning of sanctuary. I've always loved, as I remember writing here many moons ago, the deeply intimate resonance, the sense of safety and nourishment, the diversity of experiences and places, that word evokes. I recall my wise age-mate Parker Palmer movingly capturing its evolution, nuance and importance in his own life. "Sanctuary," he wrote, "is wherever I find safe space to regain my bearings, reclaim my soul, heal my wounds, and return to the world as a wounded healer. It’s not merely about finding shelter from the storm: it’s about spiritual survival... [The sanctuary] I need may not be in a church, but in the silence, in the woods, in a friendship, in a poem, or in a song [like that of Carrie Newcomer in her album "The Beautiful Not Yet."] Used as a noun most commonly, derived from the Latin sanctum, sanctuary typically describes a sacred or holy place, a refuge. Although I find that quality in church and temple services, I like also to sit in churches when no service is occurring, treasuring in silence just those qualities of refuge. And like... Continue reading
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I spent the last years of my professional life as a psychologist in Norway, at a healing community the likes of which we have yet to see in the United States. It is called Modum Bad − literally, the baths at Modum − a 19th century spa that in 1957 became a manifold psychiatric center of healing that was designed to embody the integrity of psyche and spirit. Had my wife Leigh not become mortally ill, we would still be there, for it was a gifted environment to teach and continue to learn about human development in ways toward which my training and experience as a psychologist in the U.S. had led me without my knowing. Leigh was also a psychologist, a researcher and practitioner kin to my work as a teacher and practitioner, so we came as a team, she as director of Modum Bad's Research Institute, I as a professor to patients and staff and ongoing learner of human development, affiliated with the Research Institute (Forskningsinstituttet). My characterization of our time at Modum Bad is embodied in a monograph I called "Modum Bad: A Resource for Healing and Renewal," available here on Reckonings at http://www.reckonings.net/reckonings/2007/06/modum-bad-a-res.html. The community's own... Continue reading
One day the Buddha was strolling along with his congregation when he pointed to the ground and said, "This spot is a good place to build a sanctuary." Indra [Hindu god] took a blade of grass and stuck it into the ground and said, "The sanctuary is built." The Buddha smiled. As my teacher Lee deBarros writes, koans bring up living questions − What is a sanctuary? Is it a place of personal refuge? Is it a community? A temple? A church? What is your sanctuary? When do we need or want a sanctuary? Is there actually a sanctuary? How does it relate to practice? As we discussed sanctuary in our lives, members of our meditation group or sangha shared a manifold experience of sanctuary: our twice-weekly sangha itself, its safe, companionable and nourishing silence, and our care for each other when one of us is suffering or ill or departs this earth; The Redwoods, the community in which we live and share diverse experiences; our childhood homes and the homes of our grown children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; the larger enveloping mystery that is often known as the presence of God in and among us. I recalled vividly my life... Continue reading
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Born in Ohio, Gloria Steinem, 82, graduated in 1956 and became a writer. By 1972, when she founded Ms magazine, she was known as a political activist and feminist organiser. She is the author of many books and essays, including the bestselling My Life On The Road. Woman, her documentary series about violence against women, will air on Viceland UK on 8 March. She lives in New York. What is your greatest fear? Being about to die, and saying, “But…” What is your earliest memory? Being held on my mother’s lap while my father drove. Which living person do you most admire and why? Dr Denis Mukwege, because he is to sexualised violence against females what Mandela was to apartheid. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself? Waiting until the last minute. What is the trait you most deplore in others? It’s a tie between an inability to empathise and having no sense of humour. Property aside, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought? In my 30s, I was staring at a pair of expensive boots in a shop window when the photographer Gordon Parks came up behind me. He instantly understood, because he grew up even poorer... Continue reading
Emily Dickinson Meditation can be an act of love, a reawakening, not a means to an end. “Don’t meditate to fix yourself, to heal yourself, to improve yourself, to redeem yourself; rather, do it as an act of love." − from Bob Sharples, Meditation: Calming the Mind Continue reading
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Every morning at ten o’clock, as I stood at the kitchen sink and finished the breakfast dishes, I could hear him pecking up the street on his wooden leg. I lived in the basement of a remodelled corner house in the East Fifties. From the front windows on First Avenue I could almost see the East River—anyway, I could hear the boat whistles. The apartment ran the length of the house, so that the kitchen at the back and the small garden adjoining it were adjacent to the side street. I called that tiny patch of ground a garden, and so did the real-estate man who leased me the place, but it held little privacy. It was separated from the street only by a high railing, and passersby could almost tell what we were drinking on those afternoons when I entertained my friends out of doors. He would stop outside the railing and call to me through the open kitchen door. The first time he appeared, I was about to refuse whatever appeal he might make, for I was continually pestered by tramps and I had grown hard. Then I saw the wooden leg. There was a piece of ham... Continue reading
Ryōkan (1758-1831) Returning To My Native Village Returning to my native village after many years’ absence: I put up at a country inn and listen to the rain. One robe, one bowl is all I have. I light incense and strain to sit in meditation; All night a steady drizzle outside the dark window -- Inside, poignant memories of these long years of pilgrimage. Continue reading
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A lovely poem to which I turn, often enough, when I'm not sure I want to get up in the morning, or after I've read the day's news. And sometimes, as well, on those blessed days when I have not forgotten the mystery. Primary Wonder Days pass when I forget the mystery. Problems insoluble and problems offering their own ignored solutions jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing their colored clothes; cap and bells. And then once more the quiet mystery is present to me, the throng's clamor recedes: the mystery that there is anything, anything at all, let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything, rather than void: and that, O Lord, Creator, Hallowed One, You still, hour by hour sustain it. ~ Denise Levertov ~ Denise Levertov was born in England to a Welsh mother and a Russian Hasidic father. Her father, who had emigrated to the UK from Leipzig, converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest. She moved to the United States in 1948, and in 1955 became an American citizen. By the time she died in 1997, Levertov had published nearly fifty volumes of poetry, prose, and... Continue reading
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The Roosevelts, January 1945 Double-click to enlarge photos. This is a portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and their then 13 grandchildren, on FDR's fourth Inauguration Day, 20 January 1945. I am in a jacket, short pants and tie, front and center, music box in hands, looking a little gloomy ("When can I get out of these fancy duds?"). Back row left to right: Eleanor Roosevelt, Curtis Roosevelt "Buzzie" Boettiger (my brother, kneeling, in his military school uniform), Anna Eleanor ("Sistie") Boettiger (my sister), William Donner Roosevelt, Ruth Chandler Roosevelt, David Boynton Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), Franklin D. Roosevelt III (Frank) standing at FDR's left. On the floor: Christopher Roosevelt, Anne Sturgis "Nina" Roosevelt with her brother Haven Clark Roosevelt in back of her, John Roosevelt Boettiger (me), Elliott (Tony) Roosevelt, Jr, Kate Roosevelt and Kate's sister, Sara Delano Roosevelt, on the stool. Those of my cousins I knew or know best were and/or are Frank, Nina, Haven and Tony. Bouncing over the woods roads on the family land in Hyde Park was a joy. We are all among the predominately Democratic Roosevelts whose family home is in Hyde Park, New York (now a National Historic Site).... Continue reading
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Thanks to a good friend, Al Braidwood, I am offering the following remarks of my great-great uncle, who knew of what he spoke. We are as close as we have ever been in this country to having an authoritarian demagogue with a narcissistic personality disorder as our president. We must gather a coherent and effective party and movement to carry forward the post-inauguration marches, with far more attention to lies told and ignorance unveiled. Trump will be no push-over, and he can do a great deal of damage. But if we can get party and movement together, we can do much to moderate and stop his initiatives. As Theodore Roosevelt said: "The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when... Continue reading
A friend sent me the short article excerpted below, which is drawn from a website called Patheos (http://www.patheos.com). Patheos is described in Wikipedia as "a non-denominational, non-partisan online media company providing information and commentary from various religious and nonreligious perspectives,....the largest English language religion and spiritual site in the world." This brief commentary offers a useful reply to a question I am often asked: What can ordinary folks like us do in response to the manifold catastrophe of Donald Trump's presidency? ___________________________ Given what we know of Trump and his administration, I believe that we must start seeing resistance as a spiritual practice. It must be a daily practice. It is our spiritual responsibility to stay informed. It is our faithful duty to stay vigilant. It is our moral obligation to make our voices heard and to share with those most in need the access that our places of privilege offers. We must stand up not only for our own rights and interest but for the rights and interests of others. We must promote equality, justice, and love in our every action, but not fall victim to the false perspective that to do so means we do so timidly and... Continue reading
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The author of the following article in today's New York Times − which I have excerpted here − is Dhruv Khullar, M.D., a resident physician at the Massachusetts General Hospital with interests in health policy, economics, and journalism. He is a contributor at the New York Times and writes regularly for both mainstream and academic publications, exploring evolving trends in medicine and health care. He graduated with honors from Yale University (B.A. in Biology), and earned his medical degree (M.D.) at the Yale School of Medicine. He also received a Masters in Public Policy (M.P.P.) from the Harvard Kennedy School, where he was a fellow at the Center for Public Leadership. His work has appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Atlantic, Slate, Politico, and Scientific American. For the full article, go to How Social Isolation Is Killing Us Social isolation is a growing epidemic — one that’s increasingly recognized as having dire physical, mental and emotional consequences. Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. About one-third of Americans older... Continue reading
The winter solstice In the Northern Hemisphere, today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and the longest night. It's officially the first day of winter and one of the oldest-known holidays in human history. Anthropologists believe that solstice celebrations go back at least 30,000 years, before humans even began farming on a large scale. Many of the most ancient stone structures made by human beings were designed to pinpoint the precise date of the solstice. The stone circles of Stonehenge were arranged to receive the first rays of midwinter sun. Some ancient peoples believed that because daylight was waning, it might go away forever, so they lit huge bonfires to tempt the sun to come back. The tradition of decorating our houses and our trees with lights at this time of year is passed down from those ancient bonfires. In ancient Egypt and Syria, people celebrated the winter solstice as the sun's birthday. In ancient Rome, the winter solstice was celebrated with the festival of Saturnalia, during which all business transactions and even wars were suspended, and slaves were waited upon by their masters. (courtesy of Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac) Continue reading