On seeing a large office building in Berlin

We prefer our Big Macs and our Whoppers, our food portions supersized, our big cars and sprawling cities, our enormous football players, our big breasts and big houses (up from an average of 1,200 square feet in 1950 to 2,216 square feet today), our big armies with big reach, and, though we complain about it incessantly, big government that spends big money running up big debt (more now than at any other period in our history). That we allow corporations to grow to outrageous size is just another symptom of the disease. Bigness worship permeates every layer of the culture; it is racked into our brains with every turn of the advertising screw; it is a totalizing force.

Christopher Ketcham


I went on a short work-related trip to Berlin recently. It was my first time visiting that city and my stay, albeit very short, was a lovely one, filled with the kindness of people. The flight took just one hour and twenty minutes, but to get on the plane required turning up much earlier and waiting. As always, the flight was delayed by the predictable “delay to the incoming flight”, so a short eighty-minute journey took five hours out of the day.

Airports are not the worst place to wait. It is easy to sit there, and pay attention, to what is going on inside us and to what is going on around. The truth of human life is that we must spend quite a bit of time waiting. Not just on the physical level. At a deeper level we are all waiting for something or someone. For a possibility of healing, of a real contact, of meeting without pretence or the need to hide behind masks. These possibilities, large and small, await us — at the end of a journey, in a new relationship, in a change in how we are dealing with our life in this world. Sure, we all are anxious to get to our arrivals. But often we are in an in-between place, still in our waiting, and we have to have the courage not to go anywhere except the places where our lives are now, places we occupy until real contentment comes.

While waiting it can be a temptation to fill our lives with whatever we can to rob time of its tediousness. We can be afraid of being just with ourselves, in-between. We rush to fill the gap by doing too much, by not staying still. But when stillness comes our way – we can find it in an airport, in the slow reading of a good novel, in a quiet walk or in our sitting practice – it allows us to stay and taste the richness of the present moment as it opens our hearts to the inner beauty of life. A beauty as simple as having a glass of strange-coloured local beer in a square under the trees, which gave a sense of connection; it eased and gave meaning to the larger waits of life.

Balance 1: Make time

The question in an age of rapid transit and conference calls and triple shift work days is balance. And the answer is balance too.

But what is balance in a society whose skewing of time has it totally off-balance? What is balance in a culture that has destroyed the night with perpetual light and keeps equipment going twenty-four hours a day because it is more costly to turn machines on and of than it is to pay people to run them at strange and difficult hours? In the first place balance for us is obviously not a mathematical division of the day. For most of us our days simply do not divide that easily. In the second place, balance for us is clearly not equivalence. Because I have done forty hours of work this week does nt mean that I will have forty hours of prayer and leisure. What it does mean, however, is that somehow I must make time for both. I must make time or die inside.

Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily

Our mortal heart

A lovely poem by Mary Oliver. She sees a dead tree and it remindes her of something or someone she has lost in her life. She talks of the tree which she loved. There are other trees. But this one she loved. It can be the same for all the losses in our lives, since everyday we lose something, as Stephen Levine reminds us.

Every day
on my way to the pond
I pass the lightning-felled,
hundred-fingered, black oak
which, summers ago,
swam forward when the storm

laid one lean yellow wand against it, smoking it open
to its rosy heart.
It dropped down
in a veil of rain,
in a cloud of sap and fire,
and became what it has been ever since–
a black boat
in the tossing leaves of summer,

like the coffin of Osiris
upon the cloudy Nile.
But, listen, I’m tired of that brazen promise:
death and resurrection.
I’m tired of hearing how the nitrogens will return
to the earth again,
through the hinterland of patience–
how the mushrooms and the yeasts
will arrive in the wind–
how they’ll anchor the pearls of their bodies and begin
to gnaw through the darkness,
like wolves at bones–

what I loved, I mean, what that tree–
tree of the moment–tree of my own sad, mortal heart–
and I don’t want to sing anymore of the way

Osiris came home at last, on a clean
and powerful ship, over
the dangerous sea, as a tall
and beautiful stranger.

Mary Oliver, The Oak Tree at the Entrance to Blackwater Pond

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Sometimes it is healthier to be alone. There are times in life when it is right to choose it – to move from the fear of being alone, to the ability to savour it. Mastering this ability is all about living a life in which we can feel whole and happy inside ourselves, and can take care of ourselves emotionally.

This capacity to be alone is one of the most important signs of maturity in emotional development. In Winnicott’s theory of the development of the self, our ability to be alone is formed through the awareness of a stable loving presence. When we are secure in the knowledge of being cared for, we develop the capacity to be by ourselves. If that knowledge was not formed fully when we were little, we can sometimes throw ourselves into relationships and activities in later life because we do not like being with ourselves. Being able to be alone is the best preparation for healthy relationships because it is founded on a security deep inside and we are not using the relationship to run away from our insecurities.

Therefore, the best model for later life is the child playing contently by itself. Maybe this is why sitting practice is so effective; through it we learn to sit with ourselves, allowing our fears and anxiety arise and pass away without giving them undue space. We can develop strong roots, content in ourselves, at home in the silence, not running, planted firmly.

Therapy is completed when a child can play alone