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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
Recent Activity
Paula, I'm grateful for your response to my re-review of "The Prodigal Son." As I wrote, I had originally offered it as a talk over a decade ago, and only last week rediscovered it and thought to myself, that's an interesting piece, why don't I edit it anew, see how it emerges these years later for current readers of Reckonings. Good to discover it is still intriguing to many, and I always enjoy re-editing. It was good to see Barbara here this week. She came with Frieda to our longstanding Tuesday reading group. I'm glad you share my fondness for John O'Donahue, as well. We share our blessings for each other, always a source of renewal, John
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The following reimagining and retelling of a familiar story are drawn from one of a series of talks I gave in the winter and spring of 2007 to staff and patients at Modum Bad, a psychiatric hospital, retreat center and learning community in Vikersund, Norway. I discovered Modum Bad in 2005, and returned for a second extended time as a consultant in February 2007. Of course, I learned more than I taught. My first impressions of Modum Bad were gathered in a short essay after that first leisurely visit in 2005. I revised and extended that essay for publication later in 2007, Modum Bad's 50th anniversary year — in fact, its 150th anniversary year, as it began as a European healing spa in 1857. Modum Bad means the baths at Modum, gathered around St. Olavs Kilde, St. Olav's Spring. My own retelling of Jesus's parable owes a great deal to the translation and commentary of Stephen Mitchell in his Gospel According to Jesus Christ (2001). The story I retell here is the last and longest of three parables of Jesus recounted in Luke's gospel. The thread they share is that of losing and finding and rejoicing in renewal or life-redeeming... Continue reading
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4 April 2018, New York Times, by David Margolick Fifty years ago tonight, moments before he boarded a plane in Muncie, Ind., Robert Kennedy learned that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been shot in Memphis. Something preternatural in Kennedy told him that Dr. King wouldn’t make it, but only on the other end of the short flight to Indianapolis, where he was scheduled to speak that evening, would he find out he’d been right. Kennedy headed for the rally, where a crowd awaited him, formulating a eulogy for Dr. King that proved more enduring than anything uttered at his funeral.It proved, in fact, to be Kennedy’s most memorable speech. He arrived late, by which time things had grown darker, colder, rainier, angrier: many in the crowd, especially more recent arrivals, already knew Dr. King was gone. Some taunted whites there; others, gang members, were bent on violence. “They kill Martin Luther, and we was ready to move,” one later said. Draped in his brother’s old overcoat, Kennedy climbed the rickety steps leading to the back of a pickup truck that would serve that night as his podium. “This little bitty, small white man started talking, and... Continue reading
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I've included in a few pages of Reckonings, especially those related to my and others' thoughts of spirituality and the practice of meditation, an image called an ensō. A friend with whom I was talkin... Continue reading
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Too often I forward news of the illnesses of our culture, so I wanted to offer you—literally—a blessing. John O'Donohue died much too early, and was a lovely voice of Celtic spirituality. It is a blessing in itself to hear him read his poem, "Bennacht" ["blessing" in Gaelic]. Krista Tippett interviewed him shortly before he died. https://onbeing.org/blog/john-odonohue-beannacht/ Bennacht On the day when The weight deadens On your shoulders And you stumble, May the clay dance To balance you. And when your eyes Freeze behind The grey window And the ghost of loss Gets into you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green And azure blue, Come to awaken in you A meadow of delight. When the canvas frays In the currach of thought And a stain of ocean Blackens beneath you, May there come across the waters A path of yellow moonlight To bring you safely home. May the nourishment of the earth be yours, May the clarity of light be yours, May the fluency of the ocean be yours, May the protection of the ancestors be yours. And so may a slow Wind work these words Of love around you, An invisible cloak To mind your life. Continue reading
Preparing to lead our meditation group this morning, I stumbled upon a poem by Mary Oliver, "Mindful," that I had not read before. I'll put it below, in addition to an excerpt from her more familiar poem, "The Summer Day." Our discussion focused on mindful caregiving—caring for self and others—what we do with our meditation when we leave our simulacrum of a zendo and take our meditation into our everyday lives. Mindful Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for - to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world - to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation. Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant - but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these - the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean's shine, the prayers that are made out of grass — Mary Oliver From "The Summer Day": I... Continue reading
In our midweek meditation this afternoon we focused on the experience of awakening, and I found myself reciting a favorite poem of Rumi. Another of our members said that in her Buddhist tradition the same poem was regularly part of day-long shesshins. So we said together: The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want. Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep. Remembering Rumi's poem, another poem, a prayer, came to mind, from Shantideva, an 8th century Buddhist monk and scholar: May I be a protector to those without protection, A guide for those who journey, And a boat, a bridge, a passage For those desiring the further shore... Continue reading
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Two weeks ago two friends and I attended a retreat at Santa Sabena Center in San Rafael, devoted to an exploration of Celtic Christianity. The leader was John Philip Newell, a deeply informed and eloquent minister in the Church of Scotland, whose understanding of the spiritual tradition of Celtic Christianity is unparalleled. The retreat’s theme was “Falling in Love Across Traditions.” John Philip devoted a day each to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the Celtic presence in all three. We are exploring the development of a presentation on Celtic Christianity at the Community Church of Mill Valley, a project for which I wrote the summary below. I emphasize the summary's brevity: Much of importance in the practice of Celtic Christianity has been left out, including the importance of meditation and the lives and legends of such remarkable people as Brigid of Kildare, one of Ireland's patron saints, along with Patrick and Columba. Irish hagiography identifies her as an Irish nun, abbess, and founder of several monasteries of nuns, including that of Kildare in Ireland. Listening for the Heartbeat: An Introduction to Celtic Christianity The title above reflects our gratitude to John Philip Newell, a gifted and accomplished minister in the... Continue reading
Having just addressed myself to James Wright's poem "The Blessing," I found that I couldn't let him go, for rereading "The Blessing" led me to another of his most admired poems, one bearing close kinship to "The Blessing." Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly, Asleep on the black trunk, Blowing like a leaf in green shadow. Down the ravine behind the empty house, The cowbells follow one another Into the distances of the afternoon. To my right, In a field of sunlight between two pines, The droppings of last year’s horses Blaze up into golden stones. I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on. A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home. I have wasted my life. Like "The Blessing" but with more diverse interpretation, discussion in critical circles has focused particularly on the last lines—in this instance on the single last line, "I have wasted my life." In relation to "The Blessing," there is considerable agreement that the poet's experience of the ponies in the pasture inspire a recognition of transcendence. Here, however, there is more wonder about the suddenness and ambiguity of... Continue reading
This morning a friend who was leading our meditation group recited a poem that has long been a favorite of mine, but which I'd never heard read aloud. If one is truly listening, and the reader at least passably skillful at the demanding task of reading poetry aloud well (alas, less common among contemporary poets than one would wish), there is a distinctive pleasure to be had in the hearing. I put it this way for the moment: The poem, in effect, is lifted above the page, comes alive in a different way than when read in privacy — not to say better, but different. So I wish I could offer the poem read aloud, as well as here on the page of Reckonings: alas, not possible, at least to one of my technical skill. The poem was James Wright's "A Blessing." A Blessing Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota, Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. And the eyes of those two Indian ponies Darken with kindness. They have come gladly out of the willows To welcome my friend and me. We step over the barbed wire into the pasture Where they have been grazing all day, alone.... Continue reading
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Silence, Stillness and Sanctuary 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 and exploration of soul can be present in our ordinary daily rounds−our work, love and play, as well as in rare moments of crisis, insight or vision. The practices most commonly devoted to the cultivation of soul, its renewal and redemption, are imagination, contemplation, meditation, prayer, lectio divina. My model of a place dedicated to such nourishment – 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... Continue reading
From The Guardian nine years ago. When do friends send unexpected reminders of moving events in their shared past? Whenever, they are welcome, reminders of anam cara,* of sadness and delight in the Celtic imagination. The philosopher and poet John O'Donohue believed that it is within our power to transform our fear of death so that we need fear little else this life brings. That he has died, unexpectedly in his sleep at 52, robs the world of a genuinely original religious mind who, almost accidentally, became a bestselling writer and public speaker. For a priest and academic who spent most of his time living in solitude in a remote spot on the west of Ireland, O'Donohue was as startled as anyone else by his success. Not long after he had decided to leave the priesthood - he found himself having "less and less in common with the hierarchy" — his 1997 book on Celtic spirituality, Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World (1997), became a word-of-mouth hit, racing up the bestseller lists. For a student of Hegel who had written his Ph.D. in German, O'Donohue found it amusing that pop stars and presidents had his book at their... Continue reading
Tensions Between the U.S. and North Korea: The Risks of War John R. Boettiger Mill Valley Seniors for Peace, 13 December 2017 I hope most of you will join me in figuratively lighting a candle of thanks and relief for the remarkable, unanticipated victory of Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, in the special election yesterday of a Senator in Alabama. It’s related to our topic this evening in that it is a victory for sanity, for reason and good sense over bigotry and exploitation, and will reduce the GOP majority in the Senate to the narrowest of margins. Amy Sorkin writes in the current New Yorker, “In less than a year, the President, with help from the Alabama Senate candidate [Roy Moore], has so damaged the party that it may never recover.” Tensions between the US and the autocratic regime of Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea are longstanding, but greater than they’ve been in a generation. NK is sometimes characterized as “the world’s most isolated country” whose people have no access to the internet or news sources other than what’s provided by their own regime. 85% of them live outside the capital city, Pyongyang, and none can enter without permission. Only... Continue reading
It has been a few months since I have done a systematic review of readers' comments. I'm grateful for yours. As you must know, it is a great pleasure to bear some responsibility for giving joy to another. John
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Tomorrow, October 11, is Eleanor Roosevelt's birthday. We grandchildren called her Grandmère. She learned to speak French before she learned English. Born in 1884, she died on November 7, 1962, at the age of 78. A few days or so before she died she told me she was ready, even impatient, to go: no more usefulness, no more pills. She had a lifetime full of meaning. I hope she knew that at the end. She was a model for her children and grandchildren, despite her own upbringing and therefore her expectations as a young mother. She and PaPa (FDR) had a daughter (Anna, my mother - with her mother, one of a long line of Anna Eleanors) and four boys (James, Elliott, Franklin Jr, and John). I wish her children, especially the boys, had been more prepared to recognize her values and practice in their own lives. Hardly her fault,* and only in some measure theirs. Growing up as a Roosevelt was both privileged and difficult, as those of us in the following generation know, and I hope have forgiven their parents, as we must if we are truly to become grown-ups. At the time of her death and long... Continue reading
I am participating for 8 weeks in the Whole Life Challenge (https://game.wholelifechallenge.com), changing habits in seven realms: Nutrition Exercise Mobilize Sleep Hydrate Reflect Most of these are more or less self-explanatory. All of them deserve at least a few words. Nutrition essentially involves eating only nutritious, healthy foods in moderate quantities, cutting out sweets, bread, jellies and jams, soy, rice, pasta, beans and legumes, peanuts, industrial vegetable and seed and hydrogenated oils, cereals, alcohol. Mobilize refers to "completing any kind of stretching or mobilizing of your muscles or joints each day." Hydrate, for me, is drinking 76 oz of water a day. Reflect means "writing at least briefly about how the day went." That experience becomes more and more meaningful as the project continues. Sleep is reliably getting 8 hours. Exercise is being active for part of each day. I add Meditation at least twice weekly, preferably more. An essential component is participating in a team, a group of others who are engaged in the same Challenge, to offer each other support, and buck up our senses of humor, which can feel tested or flayed from time to time. The spirit of the enterprise is illustrated by a remark of... Continue reading
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My granddaughter Sophie and a friend. Continue reading
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UPDATE, Thursday, September 28: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, breaking down during one TV interview, says people on the island are in a “life and death” struggle." More than a million people lack drinking water and most of the island is without power. “I know that leaders aren’t supposed to cry and especially not on TV, but we are having a humanitarian crisis," Yulín Cruz told WUSA-TV. “It’s life or death, every moment we spend planning in a meeting or every moment we spend just not getting the help we’re supposed to get — people are starting to die.” ___________________ My friend Gail Reed lives in Cuba. She writes today: "Cuba has just offered 4 'light brigades' to Puerto Rico to get electricity back. Trump: LET THEM IN!!" Also: https://www.newyorker.com/news/amy-davidson-sorkin/the-distance-between-donald-trump-and-puerto-rico. New York Times: "At Centro Medico in San Juan, the main hospital on the island, power went out again Tuesday, forcing staff to switch to generators that have to be constantly refueled, said Jorge Matta González, the hospital’s executive director of medical services. "The emergency room, busy under the best of times, is a jumble of patients, doctors and nurses all scrambling to treat 164 patients a day. Only... Continue reading
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John F. Kennedy / Elaine de Kooning / Oil on canvas, 1963 / National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / © 1963 Elaine de Kooning Trust Elaine de Kooning wrote in retrospect: “Painting a Portrait of the President” By Elaine de Kooning In the winter of 1962–63, the artist traveled to Palm Beach to execute a portrait commission of President Kennedy, destined for the Truman Library, Independence, Mo. Challenged, Elaine de Kooning Presented herself in the task, producing a whole series of studies (six of which are reproduced on this page) and finished paintings (one of which is on the cover of this issue; three others are on view in the Massachusetts Pavilion of the New York World’s Fair.) President Kennedy was off in the distance, about twenty yards away, talking to reporters, when I first saw him—and for one second, I didn’t recognize him. He was incandescent, golden. And bigger than life. Not that he was taller than the men standing around; he just seemed to be in a different dimension. Also not revealed by the newspaper image were his incredible eyes with large violet irises half veiled by the jutting bone beneath the eyebrows. One of the reasons I... Continue reading
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Maria Popova writes, There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing,” Maya Angelou wrote in contemplating courage in the face of evil. In the decades since, cynicism has become a cultural currency as deadly as blood diamonds, as vacant of integrity and long-term payoff as Enron. Over the years, I have written about, spoken about, and even given a commencement address about the perilous laziness of cynicism and the ever-swelling urgency of not only resisting it but actively fighting it — defiance which Leonard Bernstein considered an essential countercultural act of courage. Today, as our social and political realities swirl into barely bearable maelstroms of complexity, making a retreat into self-protective cynicism increasingly tempting, such courage is all the harder and all the more heroic. That’s what English writer Caitlin Moran examines in a stirring passage from How to Build a Girl (public library) — a novel that quenches questions springing from the same source as her insightful memoir-of-sorts How To Be a Woman: "When cynicism becomes the default language, playfulness and invention become impossible. Cynicism scours through a culture like bleach, wiping out millions... Continue reading
Seems like a good time to read again and reflect upon this poem of Marge Piercy. The birthday of the world On the birthday of the world I begin to contemplate what I have done and left undone, but this year not so much rebuilding of my perennially damaged psyche, shoring up eroding friendships, digging out stumps of old resentments that refuse to rot on their own. No, this year I want to call myself to task for what I have done and not done for peace. How much have I dared in opposition? How much have I put on the line for freedom? For mine and others? As these freedoms are pared, sliced and diced, where have I spoken out? Who have I tried to move? In this holy season, I stand self-convicted of sloth in a time when lies choke the mind and rhetoric bends reason to slithering choking pythons. Here I stand before the gates opening, the fire dazzling my eyes, and as I approach what judges me, I judge myself. Give me weapons of minute destruction. Let my words turn into sparks. Continue reading
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Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/09/15/duty-warn-and-dangerous-case-donald-trump) indicated a few days ago, There will not be a book published this fall more urgent, important, or controversial than The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, the work of 27 psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts to assess President Trump’s mental health. They had come together last March at a conference at Yale University to wrestle with two questions. One was on countless minds across the country: “What’s wrong with him?” The second was directed to their own code of ethics: “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn” if they conclude the president to be dangerously unfit for office? As mental health professionals, these men and women respect the long-standing “Goldwater rule” which inhibits them from diagnosing public figures whom they have not personally examined. At the same time, as explained by Dr. Bandy X Lee, who teaches law and psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, the rule does not have a countervailing rule that directs what to do when the risk of harm from remaining silent outweighs the damage that could result from speaking about a public figure — “which in this case, could even be the greatest possible harm.” It is an old and... Continue reading
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The Forgotten Victims of Agent Orange VIET THANH NGUYEN AND RICHARD HUGHES New York Times, September 15, 2017 Phan Thanh Hung Duc, 20, lies immobile and silent, his midsection covered haphazardly by a white shirt with an ornate Cambodian temple design. His mouth is agape and his chest thrusts upward, his hands and feet locked in gnarled deformity. He appears to be frozen in agony. He is one of the thousands of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. Pham Thi Phuong Khanh, 21, is another such patient. She quietly pulls a towel over her face as a visitor to the Peace Village ward in Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, starts to take a picture of her enlarged, hydrocephalic head. Like Mr. Hung Duc, Ms. Khanh is believed to be a victim of Operation Ranch Hand, the United States military’s effort during the Vietnam War to deprive the enemy of cover and food by spraying defoliants. Perhaps Ms. Khanh does not want strangers to stare at her. Perhaps she feels ashamed. But if she does feel shame, why is it that those who should do not? The history of Agent Orange and its effects on the Vietnamese people, as... Continue reading
Time present and time past Are both perhaps present in time future And time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present All time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction Remaining a perpetual possibility Only in a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been Point to one end, which is always present. Footfalls echo in the memory Down the passage which we did not take Towards the door we never opened Into the rose-garden. My words echo Thus, in your mind. But to what purpose Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves I do not know. Other echoes Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow? Quick, said the bird, find them, find them, Round the corner. Through the first gate, Into our first world, shall we follow The deception of the thrush? Into our first world. There they were, dignified, invisible, Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves, In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air, And the bird called, in response to The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery, And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses Had the look of flowers that are looked at. There they were... Continue reading