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.

 

Dance to Listen Better – What I Learned in Cuba

The following post recounts an experience I had during my first of many trips to Cuba from 1999 – 2012.
Dancing Man in Havana“Quiero una cerveza,” I tell the bartender

“Crystal o Bucanero?” he asks.

The two main beers of Cuba, one on the lighter side, the other, slightly more dark. Dame una Crystal,” I say with the pleasure that comes from being able to make a choice uncomplicated by having too many options.

Pouring the beer into a half-chilled glass, I suck it down. It’s a hot day in Havana. Just then an older gentleman approaches from a nearby table. Quieres bailar?” he asks with subdued confidence.

“Gracias, pero no hay musica,” I tell him, looking around the bar then back at him for agreement.

“No importa. Venga,” the gentleman replies, his right arm reaching out towards me.

Josef is a tall slender man, who looks part African and part Asian. He has strong lines on either side of his mouth that deepen when he grins revealing yellow-stained front teeth rimmed with gold. Despite this and the slight reek of cigar smoke, he’s enchanting. “Bueno,” I nod in acceptance.

He takes my hand and escorts me to a spot several feet from the bar then gestures for me to stand beside him. “Mirame, mira mis pies” Josef says, pointing both fingers at my eyes, then back to his feet. Standing with his feet ten inches apart, he leans forward just enough for his arms to dangle free before him. He takes one step to his right then brings his foot back to its original position. Then he takes one step to his left and brings it back.

This is easy – I got this, I think. “Four steps…that’s it?” I say.

I bend my knees and step right, then back to center, left, then back to center, just like he showed me. After a few more attempts, I speed up, making me believe that I’m doing well. Turning back to Josef, in anticipation of his praise, his expression tells me otherwise. Scratching the back of his head with a perplexed look on his face, he taps his chest and tells me I have to listen to the rhythm from inside. Marking each step slowly, he claps out the rhythm, “Uno, dos….(y)…tres-cuatro-cinco; Uno, dos….(y)…tres-cuatro-cinco.”

I recognize it immediately from my Cuban dance class. It’s a rhythm of the clave – two smooth wooden sticks that when played together provide the foundational pattern for Afro-Cuban music.

Closing my eyes, I try to focus on his voice and the rhythm. Clap, clap, (pause) clap-clap- clap. How am I supposed to keep my belly relaxed and my knees bent at the same time? And my feet, it’s as if they have their own brain. (Now I know how men feel about that other body part of theirs.) This should be easy for me, but it’s not. It feels foreign. And what’s up with this should in my mind? No doubt it’s from my identity as a dancer. A dancer with twenty years of experience! But who cares about all that experience if in this moment, I can’t even follow a simple step.

I wish I could do the step the way Joseph’s doing it – on the beat and with total commitment.

Focus. Relax. Listen. I tell myself. Keep it simple. Breath. Move from the breath in sync with the rhythm. That’s the only task.

I look over at Josef, who looks back at me, bending his knees even more, as if to challenge me to do the same.

I focus on my feet; right, then back to the original position, then left, and then back to center. Breath, focus, sink into the rhythm. For a moment my hips, torso and shoulders seem to move in concert and with the least amount of effort.

Lowering myself even closer to the floor to match Josef, my thighs begin to hurt and my legs shake. I look down, lose focus and almost fall over myself. Josef’s elegant and precise movements are beyond reach for now. Our wordless dialogue continues for a moment before I have to stop and rest. Catching my breath, I ask him, “Que hace a un buen bailador?

With a glint of mischief in his eyes, he says, “Tienes que escuchar a Dios,”

 

Note: While the man in this photo is not the actual Josef I danced with (unfortunately, I took no photo), this gentlemen exudes Josef’s joy and warmth.

The Power of Presence

 

This video caught my attention because I was curious about the person behind the Mr. Rogers of my childhood memory.

I was irritated at first at Mr. Rogers’ slow pace – I went immediately to judgement, thinking, here we go he’s going to talk the same way he does in his children’s show? I’ll never get through this!

But in just a few minutes of listening to him speak something changed. I found that the more I focused my attention on listening, the more I heard both the words as well as the energy surrounding the words. I heard more, something beyond, or before words. Also, in slowing down to listen, I slowed down. Tension that I wasn’t even aware of, lessened. A different, energy replaced it, helping me not just hear what he was saying, but encounter something calmer inside.

It seems that something shifted for Senator Pastore, the person Mr. Rogers is addressing in the video, as well. The power of presence. What is this quality of presence that inspires us to not just hear but to listen?

Falling Off the Beat and Starting Again

A few years ago, I was an avid Salsa and Rumba dancer. I’d go out a few times a week, every week and dance for hours. If you’ve enjoyed partner dancing to live music then you know that it’s one of the best feelings on earth. That joy of feeling into the steps, being in the moment with your partner, and wrapped in powerfully good music.

The satisfaction I had when my partner and I were in sync, but also the frustration wDSC_0625e both felt when we bumped into eachother, or were off-time. But beyond both extremes, being able to re-engage in the dance, and lighten-up inside! What a relief. It could be a metaphor for our quality of attention when working on a given project. When I have an idea and decide start it, but fail to go fully into the implemention or the action of it, or when I start and make great headway, but then get interrupted…it’s unsatisfying. It’s like intending to do a particular dance step, starting it and getting interrupted, or realizing that I’m off the beat. It’s almost painful. I’d argue that it’s even more painful in a work project than in a dance, or some other physical activity, because it’s more difficult to access the joy.

The joy is in the body, not the head. When we work, its all to easy to get into the head. The point is that whether we mess up and fall off the beat or nail the step, there is always the opportunity to re-start, and isn’t that really the best part?