Week 1 Done: Touching Peace & some Denis Johnson

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I finished revisiting this old friend, Touching Peace, while flying to Chicago to visit a friend for a few days. Have you ever been packing and decide you’ll never finish your read so you don’t bring another book? Then, in a miraculous turn of events, you finish your book and then you are shocked you have nothing else to read except your beat up NYer magazine? That was me after touching down at O’Hare.

However, I did carry Denis Johnson with me– a poet. I have finished almost the whole thing but I actually wanted to slow myself down and interrupt this book of poetry with some prose. I find when I am reading poetry sometimes it goes down too quickly– I want to savor it! I’ll write more about this when I finish.

Back to Touching Peace– I felt in these troubling political/social times, this is a book everyone should be carrying around with them. Simple passages remind me of core values that can get lost when you are in a type of survival mode. Here’s one quote to give you an idea:

“We accept violence as a way of life, and we water the seeds of violence in ourselves by watching violent TV programs that are poisoning us and our society. If we do not transform all this violence and misunderstanding, one day it will be our own who is beaten or killed, or who is doing the beating. This is very much our affair.” (p78)

I think sometimes Thich Nhat Hanh can be reduced to a simple, foreign, hippy-dippy type of monk– I think with his work, you have to read  between the lines and find your own accountability– this passage resonated with me because I recently viewed some episodes of Orange is the New Black from the newest season, and I actually had to turn it off because it was so disturbing. I had tried to watch it taking a break in the afternoon, and I couldn’t work for the rest of the day! I know I am a sensitive creature, but even that surprised me.

Especially on Independence Day, I think it’s crucial we reflect and check in with ourselves– what we are doing right and what we can be doing better. We all have work to do, and we all should try to help each other.

I hope you all have a peaceful holiday!

Thich Nhat Hanh, when the mood strikes, always gets a 5/5 from me. I can’t read his writing continuously (or anyone’s probably…maybe Kurt Vonnegut…), but I love picking up one of his reads every two or three years to remind myself of why I respect him so much.

7 comments on “Week 1 Done: Touching Peace & some Denis Johnson”

  1. Such resonant words–and as much as the fireworks that mark our Fourth of July celebrations across the country are the expected, I am a little troubled by the way their booming and banging and exploding can also be seen as reminders of the violence of war. Maybe that’s why my dog gets so upset by the noise–it’s violent even as it is beautiful, the vivid and noisy lights in the sky. And maybe it’s a pact we make with ourselves: enjoy the safety of observing and appreciating, while we distance ourselves from the true implication of what fireworks represent metaphorically. Not to be so dour on the holiday–the truth is, I really like the brilliance, but I hate the noise too!

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    1. I recently read that a fireworks company in Italy has developed silent fireworks in compassion for our furry friends who do not particularly enjoy the noise. I wonder how that experience translates, would I feel cheated that there were no accompanying booms…What does that say about my relationship to the violence of noise?

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      1. I’m with you Daniela- as a person who has never experienced war firsthand, I associate to sound of fireworks with celebration– though I am with Nadia on the fear it brings to animals as a sign of the inherent violence– when we were setting off fireworks at a friend’s house on Jul 4, I saw an owl flying as far away as possible and felt terribly for that bird–
        Also, my new rescue dog barked for the first time — when hearing fireworks — and was clearly scared at the entire experience.

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    2. In the context of U.S. history, I think fireworks are a form of celebrating war while forgetting its horrors. Brian Williams certainly glorified war in his describing the bombing of the airfield in Syria: “We see these beautiful pictures, at night, from the decks of these two U.S. Navy vessels in the eastern Mediterranean.” (real-time pictures showed the missiles literally lighting up the dark sky like fireworks!) “They are beautiful pictures of fearsome armaments making what is for them a brief flight over to this air field.” (No thought of the destruction and loss of life possible.) He quoted a Leonard Cohen song out of context, “I am guided by the beauty of our weapons.” Cohen was against violence, but, according to Cohen himself, he had a certain appreciation for what he calls “psychic terrorism.” The Cohen song is complicated and misrepresented. (http://pitchfork.com/news/69692-brian-williams-draws-ire-quoting-leonard-cohen-to-describe-beautiful-syrian-airstrikes/) I think Leonard Cohen would have been horrified. To have a major news anchor see beauty in weapons of destruction while sitting safely in his NYC studio is only one of the many reasons I do not get my news from the mainstream cable news outlets.

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  2. I am very inspired by Thich Naht Hanh. I recently came across a lovely interaction between him and a sweet child. Here is the site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTF9xgqLIvI I look forward to reading Touching Peace. I was a teenager and young adult during the Viet Nam War. Young people whom I knew fought and died there. Thich Naht Hanh was exiled by both the North and South. He continues to give his life over to promoting peace and reconciliation. It’s amazing that such a gentle spirit could survive such a brutal and pointless war that is still negatively impacting so many who suffered. Life-giving gifts found in struggle are hard won. To acquire them takes tremendous discipline, hope and courage. I have much to learn from this wise man

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  3. Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my favorites as well. I teach and practice yoga, and have many times used his words and meditations in my classes, as well as in my personal practice. His essence of non-violence is based in such solid commitment, and I believe he is one of the few and rare authentic teachers that we are fortunate to have in our midst.

    Here is a passage from the interview with Elizabeth Willis that I read recently, where she approaches the subject of violence. (I hope it is readable as I have pulled it mid-stream, and hope it is not too out of context).. I do believe this is an incredibly important conversation to have- as a nation, a culture, a people…
    ______

    “SPH (interviewer, Sen Patrick Hill): To return to rhetoric, briefly, what is its place in Address? “Valet of the Shadow of Death,” as an example, is ferocious, unblinking, as in the opening:

    Welcome to our treasured island
    seized from the tribe
    of enemy combatants
    who nursed us through
    the winter of 1642

    This is, however subtly, a profound statement, and it’s but one of the many stunning statements of the book.

    E Willis: Well, thanks. I think this connects to what we were talking about relative to history—and to the fact that in certain circumstances simply remembering something can be a subversive act. If we continue to view our experience as singular, if we insist on seeing it as unlike and detached from the past, we are bound to reiterate a history of violence. I am often amazed at the extent to which public discussions of terrorism and immigration avoid the obvious fact that Europeans violently seized this country from its native peoples. We forget the extent to which they relied on the assistance of precisely those people they were set on displacing and destroying. To my ear, most reporting on the Middle East still relies on the language of Manifest Destiny and on a corrupt idea of American history. Reporting and storytelling are also full of embedded rhetoric. I guess I’m drawn to rhetoric’s undoing.
    _______

    Although Willis and Thich Nhat Hanh may be coming from different angles, I find something in common in their interest in understanding and transforming violence…

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    1. meredith- thank you for your wonderful comments and the connection with your own recent read– I love it! I agree, these conversations– no matter how difficult– really are critical.

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