The Power of Patience

Tom Spriggs When I was 7 years old I made a trip to England to meet my grandparents on my fathers side for the first time. It was a special trip for many reasons, including meeting my friend Tom Spriggs.

Tom was a trusted neighbor and friend of my grandparents. He and his wife were the first to welcome them to Sway when they relocated there to retire. Sway was and still is a quaint and lovely village in Hampshire England, large enough to have a grocery store (or maybe a few by now), but small enough to formerly qualify as a village according to English standards – larger than a hamlet, but smaller than a town.

My grandmother told me that Tom was a soft-spoken and private man made even more so after the loss of his beloved wife a few years earlier. She had taken it upon herself with characteristic British cheerful dutifulness to include Tom in her day-to-day life and social engagements. My grandfather, who I called Grandpop, built a doorway in the wood fence between their houses to make this easier and encourage visits for afternoon teas’.

I met Tom the second day of my trip while swinging on the fence in front of my grandparents’ house. I don’t recall our first conversation but remember that his gentle manner made me trust him immediately. For the afternoons that followed, he’d invite me for tea or show me his green room with rows of thriving tomato plants or we’d walk the two blocks to downtown Sway where there was a bed and breakfast and pub with pigs and chickens in the backyard.

It may seem odd that a 7 year old child and 60 year old man would have enough in common for a conversation, but we did, and we had many of them. We’d talk about all kinds of things. I told him about the dirt farm I made back home for lizards and slugs that despite its 3 inch mud-clay walls, failed to stop the creatures from escaping after an hour or so. I shared my love of sitting amongst the cornhusks in our garden, munching raw corn while dad hacked down the dead dry grass in the summer time. And that the reason I pressed wild flowers was so I could look at them when I felt sad to remember feeling happy.

Tom, a retired train conductor, told me about his travels throughout England and the interesting people he met along the way. He confided about his life before, when he was a soldier in WWI and how he endured trench warfare for an entire month without food. He was a teenager, one of 250,000 volunteers under the age of 19 to answer the call to fight. England had only 700,000 in the armed forces at the beginning of the war, compared to Germanys’ 3.7 million. He didn’t say much about his experience, just that it was hard to say anything at all.

The thing I remember most about our conversations, more so than what we talked about was how they felt. I was free because Tom was never in a rush. He always had time to chat, or at least, he seemed to. Not just for me, but anyone who crossed his path. Talking with him gave me the same feeling I had when watching the ocean or looking up at the sky through the branches of a cherry blossom tree.

I felt this calmness in nature all the time, but rarely in conversation and almost never in conversation with adults, with their agendas, and assumptions, and hopes and interpretations. With Tom it was different. I remember saying something, then waiting for his response and having the distinct impression of him reflecting on what he was going to say in a way that was both connected to our conversation and me and simultaneously connected to something within him that was also impersonal, infinite. The pauses between our interactions and even his tender and authentic delivery of his words gave me an entirely new experience of what conversation could be like.

Before leaving England, Tom and I agreed to continue our conversation through letters. Decades before the internet existed and at a time when long distance phone calls could get expensive, this was about the only option we had. Thank goodness…I doubt email would have been an equally satisfying replacement to the experience of reading a good letter.

We would write one another for many years to come until Tom’s death at 78. I was twenty-five.

Our correspondance of 18 years taught me about the power of consistency in love and friendship. In a word, patience.

 

A Certain Kind of Dialogue

I happened upon the late physicist and author, David Bohm while conducting research for my Master’s thesis. Bohm wrote a ground breaking book called, Wholeness and the Implicate Order in which he introduced his interpretation of Quantum Physics. His writing about the nature of life at the sub-atomic level was lyrical but concrete, rational but intuitive. It captivated my thinking and informed my thesis proposing a non-dualistic way to think about the nature of experience.

Bohm was also actively engaged in applying his insights from Physics to the realm of communication in the form of dialogue groups and conversations with philosophers and spiritual masters. One person in particular with whom Bohm had several dialogues was with the world-renowned spiritual teacher, J. Krishnamurti. Below is one of many of their dialogues, titled “Krishnamurti & David Bohm on The Future of Humanity.”

I watched this and many other videos of his dialogues over and over again each time hearing something new and different than before. Not only did I hear something new with each viewing, but I experienced a change in the quality of my own thinking. I noticed, for example, that in watching Krishnamurti’s and Bohm’s ability to reflect before responding to a question, I began pondering/pausing before responding in a knee-jerk manner to a question.

Watching the two great thinkers interact was refreshing, even inspiring because it seemed to have nothing to do with being nice or polite or smart or better than, (or less than). In other words, nothing typical, in fact, quite atypical. And at the same time, there was something so completely normal and human in the way they conversed.

It planted a seed in me for that a certain kind of dialogue, one focused much more on listening than telling. Or at least, trying to listen more than tell/explain/prove/defend. The challenge I found was not so much to find others with whom I could dialogue, but to experiment and model aspects of Bohmian dialogue myself.

I’ve discovered that at the core of this challenge is the act of listening. It may seem counterintuitive to think of communication in terms of listening, but I’ve experienced it as an essential aspect. And not only that, learning to listen well is an ongoing challenge with infinite learning opportunities. At least it is for me.

 

Why I Love Oakland

 

Lake MerrittI LOVE Oakland.

It’s not about the Warriors win this past year. Though that’s super wonderful.

It’s not about the recent hipster’ness of this town and it’s (long overdue) overnight popularity.

It’s not because it’s the abused and so-called ugly step sister of the San Francisco.

It’s because when I take my dog out for a walk, I’m asked by a small group of women sitting by the Lake about my opinion on race relations. Specifically, how do I feel when I’m approached by a group of blacks. It’s worth noting that the group asking me this is an inquiring group of African American women.

We had a rich dialogue that I think was good for all involved. I learned something, the woman who initiated the conversation learned something, etc.

That we can have this quality of dialogue between strangers on a topic that is historically and to date, emotionally charged, (rightfully so), is the real gift. The opportunity hidden in the everyday.

THIS is what makes me stay in this country – free speech and it’s potential for quality dialogue. I’m grateful for the leaders who had the foresight to create a structure that could, however imperfectly, create the conditions for encounters of the sort I experienced today.

There is SO much more than consumerism (and being a consumer) possible in this amazing country.

(note: Original post was in Facebook earlier in the year, 2015)