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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
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Tomorrow, June 23, 2018, I shall travel to Portland, Oregon, to join the Boettiger clan in celebrating the graduation of my son Joshua at the end of his two-year MFA program in poetry at Pacific University. Though better known as a rabbi (currently at Temple Emek Shalom in Ashland, Oregon) than as a poet, he is now bi-vocational. He has always brought his gifts as a poet to his rabbinical presence, but I'm confident that the truly wonderful growth of his poetic craft in the last two years will become known to a much wider audience in its own right. As soon as he shares his final thesis, including his poems, with his dad, I look forward to sharing my experience of his work with readers of Reckonings. More of his work will surely be published. Stanley Kunitz's poem, "The Layers," is my best gift to Joshua at this time, as it is the first and longest-standing of the poems the two of us have shared, among the fruits of our chavruta. Its character is expressive of what he and I have cherished over many years. The Layers By Stanley Kunitz I have walked through many lives, some of them... Continue reading
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A report from The New York Times about innovation in Yosemite National Park, and our own equally overcrowded gem, Muir Woods: They paved paradise and put up a lot of parking lots. That was the way some national parks coped with the surge in visitors in recent decades. We published an article this week on a project that did the reverse — restored the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park partly by tearing up a lot of asphalt and hauling it away. The Muir Woods National Monument, the grove of centuries-old coastal redwoods in Marin County, is undergoing a similar multimillion-dollar transformation, albeit more gradually. In January the park instituted a mandatory parking reservation system to mitigate overcrowding. A shuttle bus from other parking areas also requires reservations. The result has been a 20 percent reduction in the number of visitors to Muir Woods, which is across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Visitors numbered 72,790 in April this year compared with 92,589 during the same month last year, according to the Park Service. Next summer the park will begin tearing up parking lots, relocating and renovating them, possibly using a more natural material than asphalt.... Continue reading
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The paper to which I direct readers below was published by Modum Bad, a remarkable healing community and psychiatric hospital whose campus is nestled among forest and fields typical of southern Norway, just above the beautiful inland lake of Turifjord and the village of Vikersund, little more than an hour's drive north of Oslo. I completed the paper in May 2007, after my wife Leigh and I had returned to our home in Dedham, Massachusetts, having completed two visits, each of several months, at Modum Bad as guest psychologists. Most of the research upon which the paper is based was completed on those visits, and early drafts were shared with members of Modum Bad's clinical staff, whose responses were generous and enormously valuable. Leigh and I knew that we would return to Modum Bad, she as director of its Research Institute, I as lecturer and consultant to staff and patients. That next stage of our Modum Bad life was cut short by the illness that was to take Leigh's life in 2012. That is another story, one that someday I may be able to write, but for the time being, I'll simply add that my own relationship with Modum Bad... Continue reading
From the current issue of Wired magazine: "Everyone knows the importance of a good night's sleep. But do you really? If Golden State Warriors forward Andre Igoudala is any indication, many people drastically underestimate just how powerful good sleep hygiene can be. For 10 years, Igoudala had been sleeping terribly: late nights playing video games and afternoon naps threw off his sleep cycle and hampered his performance on the court. But then he met Cheri Mah, a physician-scientist at UC San Francisco's Human Performance Center. And, as science writer Robbie Gonzalez reports, everything changed. "Mah has been studying the relationship between sleep and athletic performance for more than a decade, and she put Iguodala on a new regimen, overhauling everything from the timing of his sleep to his caffeine intake and nutrition. The results were astounding. His three-point-shot percentage doubled; his turnover and foul rates plummeted; he started earning 29 percent more points per minute; and he won the 2015 NBA Finals MVP award , after the Golden State Warriors won the series. And to Mah, the role sleep played in that transformation can't be underestimated. 'The comparison most of us make, when talking about the importance of sleep, is... Continue reading
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One of the joys of having good friends, particularly friends who share common commitments and interests, is that they have their eyes open and alert for topics and representations of common commitments I may otherwise have missed. Such is often the case with Al Braidwood. In this instance he and I and all of our meditation circle at The Redwoods had the deeply engaging experience of sharing the reading of Frank Ostaseski's remarkable book, Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully. Al sent me more recently an essay Frank wrote in the May 2018 issue of the Buddhist journal, Lion's Roar. Not a substitute for but an extension of Frank's book, the essay focuses more particularly on the unusual and often treasured, often painful friendship that can, if all to briefly, develop between those in the last days of their lives and those whose privilege it is to care for them during that time. The vigiling (VALE) program we have developed at The Redwoods has offered a few of us, including Al and me, the opportunity of that experience. In his own introductory reflections on Frank's essay, Al puts that opportunity into remarkably insightful context: "l... Continue reading
A good friend in my community, Al Braidwood, will lead our meditation circle in its practice this coming Saturday, June 9. In his preparatory letter to the members of the group, Al invoked the words of two well-known practitioners in the Christian contemplative tradition, Ronald Rolheiser and Thomas Merton. I want to share Al's letter with readers of Reckonings because I found it moving and instructive. ____________________ Dear friends of the Meditation Circle — This Saturday, June 9, the subject is going to be the practice of silence — and I’m drawing my source material mostly from contemplative Christian sources. The invitation to “be still and know God in our inner beings” is at the heart of what is being called forth today more than ever. It is perhaps even more crucial in these shadowy, tumultuous times when it sometimes seems that the only thing between us and utter chaos is the awakened soul. To give you a foretaste, I append for your review and reflection two outstanding quotations from men whom I have no hesitation in calling Christian mystics. They are short passages excerpted from their designated books whose words are of the highest significance in this connection. We... Continue reading
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In a recent issue of the Buddhist journal Lion's Roar, one of my favorite Zen teachers (and founder of Everyday Zen Foundation) Norman Fischer offered us reflections he titled: "Life is Tough. Here Are Six Ways to Deal With It." I quoted from these reflections just a short time ago. He begins his essay, as I noted then, by invoking a notable Zen master: "There’s an old Zen saying: the whole world’s upside down. In other words, the way the world looks from the ordinary or conventional point of view is pretty much the opposite of the way the world actually is. There’s a story that illustrates this. "Once there was a Zen master who was called Bird’s Nest Roshi because he meditated in an eagle’s nest at the top of a tree. He became quite famous for this precarious practice. The Song Dynasty poet Su Shih (who was also a government official) once came to visit him and, standing on the ground far below the meditating master, asked what possessed him to live in such a dangerous manner. The roshi answered, 'You call this dangerous? What you are doing is far more dangerous!' Living normally in the world, ignoring... Continue reading
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Bishop Michael Curry, the first African-American leader of the Episcopal Church, offered the most striking, soaring, the most deeply heartfelt sermon I have known: a testimony to the centrality of love in our spiritual tradition, in his words, “a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world and a movement mandating people to live that love and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.” Thirteen minutes long, it is better seen than read, and a video is available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/19/style/bishop-michael-curry-royal-wedding.html. But Bishop Curry's sermon should be read as well, so I offer his text here. The Text of the Sermon And now in the name of our loving liberating and life giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen. From the Song of Solomon in the Bible: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave, its flashes of flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it out The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said, and I quote: we must... Continue reading
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Life is Tough. Here is the First of Six Ways to Deal With It For Norman's full essay, see lionsroar.com. BY NORMAN FISCHER| Lion’s Roar, APRIL 3, 2018 There’s an old Zen saying: the whole world’s upside down. In other words, the way the world looks from the ordinary or conventional point of view is pretty much the opposite of the way the world actually is. There’s a story that illustrates this. Once there was a Zen master who was called Bird’s Nest Roshi because he meditated in an eagle’s nest at the top of a tree. He became quite famous for this precarious practice. The Song Dynasty poet Su Shih (who was also a government official) once came to visit him and, standing on the ground far below the meditating master, asked what possessed him to live in such a dangerous manner. Theroshi answered, “You call this dangerous? What you are doing is far more dangerous!” Living normally in the world, ignoring death, impermanence, and loss and suffering, as we all routinely do, as if this were a normal and a safe way to live, is actually much more dangerous than going out on a limb to meditate. While... Continue reading
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 spirituality at our own community, The Redwoods, in Mill Valley, CA, 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, the lives, legends and thoughts of most of those who have kept the Celtic flame burning, rekindling it when it has been ignored or rejected by the Church, and the distinctive Celtic perspective on sin and evil. Listening for the Heartbeat: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality The title above reflects our gratitude to John Philip Newell, a gifted and accomplished minister in the Church of Scotland and leader... 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