Month: November 2006

Listening for a Voice

I have not heard one word come out of the Democrats’ mouths about helping to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Pointing to Bush’s failures is fine; he brought this upon himself by stifling dissent and operating as if his election gave him a divine mandate. But you cannot create a new vision for the country simply by applying correctives.

This is a moment of challenge to the Democrats. Far too often they fall into the trap of responding to Republican charges or actions rather than initiating a vision of their own.

The prescription drug debacle is the most recent and egregious: the Republicans, opposing any idea of meaningful health reform that involved the government rather than private enterprise, reconfigured the debate to be about prescription drug benefits, and the Democrats bit. They expended all their energy fighting about this tiny part of the big problem rather then keeping their eye and voice on the basic issue: that Americans are terrified of not being able to pay for their health care, and that keeping health insurance is the prime factor in many people’s life decisions, thus stifling the capacity for physical, occupational, and creative movement in this country. But the Democrats bought into the Republican reframing of the issue, and fought over a small and relatively insignificant bone.

Worst of all, they lost. If you don’t think so, ask your mother or grandmother or anyone else who has tried to use that “prescription drug benefit.” Ask them if they understood it; ask them about the “doughnut hole.” Ask them if they are any less afraid and any more secure, and if their limited fixed incomes are any more intact because of this cruel governmental hoax.

The Democrats now risk making the same mistake about other issues. They need to re-envision, not just respond. If repudiating the Republican agenda becomes their focus, it is still the Republican agenda that is shaping our national vision.

We need a new vision of who we are and what we yet can be. No small part of this is applying correctives to failed policies of the past. But it is brave new policies, not policy correctives, that will galvanize us as a nation and give us a new sense of purpose and hope.

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast and the city of New Orleans is a good place to begin.

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A question on meditation

Today I received an interesting question from a reader. He asked, “I’m curious as to whether you practice any kind of formal or informal meditation?”

His question got me to thinking, because I don’t practice any formal system of meditation. But meditation and reflection are essential to my life. If I do not give myself over to them, I quickly lose my emotional and spiritual balance.

I thought I’d share my answer to him with the rest of you.

Hi Dave,

I practice no formal meditation. But I do a lot of quiet, shapeless prayer and focused attention; a lot of what I would call “guided musical meditation.”

At least eight hours of my waking day are spent alone, and since we live in the woods with no people or traffic to distract me, the time I devote to stillness is rewarded tenfold. To me, nature is a healing meditation if it is accepted and embraced rather than examined and analyzed.

One of my most valued spiritual teachers, Ohiyesa, said it best in his writings, The Soul of an Indian: “Whenever, in the course of our day, we might come upon a scene that is strikingly beautiful or sublime — the black thundercloud with the rainbow’s glowing arch above the mountain; a white waterfall in the heart of a green gorge; a vast prairie tinged with the blood red of sunset — we pause for an instant in the attitude of worship.”

I do not have such natural drama before me, but the mindful attention to a family of trees or the movements of the winds and clouds can evoke the same sense of worshipful wonder and peace.

To be quite honest, I’m easily upset by the cruelties and inequities of the world, and have to do serious inner work to regain any sort of spiritual balance and serenity. It is my return to the sanctuary of silence and stillness that always heals me and keeps me whole.

I don’t know if this is the answer you were seeking. It is, however, a fair assessment of how, at my best, I try to bring a form of meditation into my life.

Thanks so much for writing,


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