I Don’t Need a Ride (Volodymyr Zelensky)

Such Singing in the Wild Branches

Dear Friends of our MBSR Newsletter, 

The last time I wrote a similar kind of letter to you was the morning after the 2016 Presidential Election, and now I find myself moved to connect with the more than 3,000 of you again. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, I found myself stunned, watching and reading the news, almost like a deer caught in the headlights. But, then, as if by grace, I found a copy of something I’d saved called, “We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: The Hopi Elders’ Prophecy which reads in part:
You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
 Now you must go back and tell people this is The Hour.
And there are things to be considered:
Where are you living? What are you doing? What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation? Where is your water?
Know your garden. It is time to speak your truth. Create your
community. Be good to each other. And do not look outside yourself for your leader....
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ‘struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
As if on cue, when I woke up this morning after a diet of too much heart-wrenching news before bedtime, I was awakened by a few birds singing me awake outside my window. I feel certain one of them was the robin who sat in our cherry tree outside my upstairs office window almost a year ago inspiring me to write my last MBSR newsletter to you. This plucky fellow, despite snow still being on the ground, had worried me a few weeks ago by making his first sudden return appearance outside our front door. This morning it was as if he and his friends were calling me to pull myself together and get up and write to you! Don’t I owe that to you and to myself after all the different ways I’ve written about the too frequent tendency of us humans when challenged to mistake a small part of ourselves for the whole?
And, so I begin by sharing a few paragraphs from a letter my grand-mother’s brother had written to her in 1964 about the day she made her own courageous escape from violent persecution in Russia, never to return. The letters that I treasure were written in Russian and found after my grand-mother’s death. They have been translated beautifully by a dear friend of mine.
The opening of one particular letter bears sharing:
1964 Letter from Samuel(her youngest sibling whom she hadn’t seen since 1912)      
Zlata, my dear!
Dear sister! You ask me to write to you and I have been thinking about it since you began corresponding with Fred. But where do I begin? And what should I write? When you left us, you were 16 years old and I was 12. Now you are 68 and I am 64. Fifty-two years have gone by. To tell you, even briefly, about the past and what we’ve been through, will take hundreds of letters.
I remember well that dark autumn night in 1912 when you left for faraway “America.” Waiting for the train, we all went out on the platform. It was late at night. There wasn’t a soul besides us. Two dim kerosene lamps light only the entrance and the exit of the little wooden railroad station. Everything else is lost in the thick darkness. In the group accompanying you are Papa, Mama, our grandfather from Barvenovka and Fred and I—the two “grownup” children. Mama is crying quietly: Papa has tears in his eyes; Grandfather, as always, is severe and silent. Fearfully, we watch everyone. But you—you never leave Mama’s side; you dissolve in tears, all the while trying to convince Mama not to cry, the separation won’t be long, in a year or two you will come collect all of us, if there were even a 1% chance that that wouldn’t happen, you would never leave us. You said this very honestly; you deeply believed it. But Mama, listening to all of this, also broke down and kept repeating over and over, “God knows, God knows.” At that time we children, understandably, didn’t comprehend the full tragedy of Mama’s situation. After all, her oldest daughter, her pillar of support, was going away. But there were six of us left, from 14 years of age to 1 year. And Mama alone with the heavy burden of children, food, everyone to feed and clothe. But with what?
The train appeared in the distance. It made only a three minute stop. The farewells began. At this point we couldn't contain ourselves and raised a veritable howl. I remember how Grandfather came up to you, laid his dry hands on your head and began to say a blessing in the ancient Jewish tongue. It was a very solemn and difficult moment. Reverently, everyone grew quiet.
Samuel’s allusion to the children’s “howling” recalls how last night I also watched a small boy in Ukraine howling inconsolably as he walked ahead of his family as they were trekking miles to try to get to a train. And, there was also the terrible howling of a family dog after its whole family, adults and children were wiped out by a Russian bomb. The unbearable suffering of so many people on our planet in too many places, can either break us or open our hearts. And voting for the latter, I am reminded of some words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes, an American poet, post-trauma specialist and Jungian psychoanalyst, author of Women Who Run with the Wolves:
In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency, too, to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there....We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear.
Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second or hundredth gale.
Witnessing the courage the Ukrainian people are exemplifying makes me so deeply grateful to my grand-parents, as well as to the half of my family who, growing up here, have worked tirelessly to make the world a better place through positive political means, helping my sister and I find a path toward paying back for all we’ve been given through what one might coin as psychologically-spiritually informed paths.
Estes, who has also taken a similar kind of path, goes on to say that, One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul...Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times....Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.
Witnessing President Zelensky and so many other Ukrainians who have been interviewed by courageous news people and who stand up without flinching against this horror ignites a courageous affirmation of life and informed optimism in each of us. That’s what gets me out of bed to write to you today!
And, as both Jim and I like to do, we are including some gifts today at the bottom of this letter: a poem by Mary Oliver of course, Sting’s song, Russians, which if you read about it, he wrote several years ago and just re-released, and Billy Joel’s song, Leningrad (the city now called St. Petersburg), which he wrote in 1989 when visiting Russia just before the Berlin Wall came down, and which in its own way, now must happen again. And, last, but not least, for those of you who are interested in inner life and meditative skills, we’re including a link to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mountain Meditation.
We’d like to thank our son, Triston, for all his help in bringing this to you,
and my esteemed spiritual teacher, Cynthia Pearce (who lived through World
War II in London, and lost her only son who was a fighter pilot there during the defense of London)and who once encouraged me by saying, “You’ve got everything. All you need to do is pull up your socks!”

Here come the songs, the meditation and the poem, with a deep bow,

Such Singing in the Wild Branches
It was spring
and finally I heard him
among the first leaves--
then I saw him clutching the limb
in an island of shade
with his red-brown feathers
all trim and neat for the new year.
First, I stood still
and thought of nothing.
Then I began to listen.
Then I was filled with gladness-
and that’s when it happened.
when I seemed to float,
to be, myself, a wing or a tree-
and I began to understand
what the bird was saying.
and the sands in the glass
for a pure white moment
while gravity sprinkled upward
like rain, rising
and in fact
it became difficult to tell just what it was that was singing-
it was the thrush for sure, but it seemed        
not a single thrush, but himself, and all his brothers,
and also the trees around them,
as well as the gliding, long-tailed clouds
in the perfectly blue sky—all, all of them
were singing.
And of course, yes, so it seemed,
so was I.
Such soft and solemn and perfect music doesn’t last
for more than a few moments.
It’s one of those magical places wise people
like to talk about.
One of the things they say about it, that is true,
is that, once you’ve been there,
you’re there forever.
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then-open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.
 -Mary Oliver-
(from Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays)