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January 14, 2005

Dear People,

My sabbath year has ended now. There's no longer a current address for that house of inner silence. Still I hope I can bring some of its qualities with me as I go back to work and a busy schedule. Though it is probably too early to name them adequately, my gratitude for the sabbath of 2004 asks me to honor some of its blessings.

None of them are earthshaking; I didn't get enlightened or discover a formula for triumphant tranquility in the face of apocalypse; and the same old face looks back from the mirror. But let me mention some of the simple gifts of this sabbath brought me:

  • Beholding things. When I planned my sabbath year, I had more ambitious plans for the occupation of my mind. Fortunately I fell sick at the outset last January and for two months pneumonia left me too weak to do anything but lie there and look. At the sky, mainly, which is extraordinarily beautiful and luminous and constantly changing. Then at plants, leaves, faces, ants in the sink. Just to look is a rapture, endlessly nourishing. This appetite for looking endures. Nothing can quench it or equal its pleasure. You can imagine how I enjoyed this with my grandchildren, for my sabbath gave me plentiful, exquisite hours with Julien, Eliza and Lydia, looking at the world through their eyes.

  • Time to think. This is rare, actually. Even as a scholar I'd been so busy preparing things to say or write for other people that I seldom indulged in this forbidden fruit: to stop in puzzlement or curiosity, to wonder where an idea might lead, to follow that thought, teasing it out, recognizing junctures of my own intuition or ignorance, and waiting to see where they led. Systems theory and deep ecology, though already staples of my work, were especially engrossing and rewarding. At moments I wept with gladness that my life had brought me into play with these unfolding structures of thought. And ever again I drew them into concourse with the concept and experience of time. The 30-day workshop in Deep Time, soon to happen now in Western Australia, served as a magnet to my mental explorations.

  • Missing the group work. The Work That Reconnects, because I had withdrawn from it, revealed its importance to my own inner ecology, especially in a time of so much national and global bad news. Simply discussing the news in conventional conversation often left me feeling empty and powerless; and I realized how much nourishment I had drawn over the years from the truth-speaking and deep community ignited by the workshop practices. This new depth of appreciation for the Work That Reconnects is one of the more poignant gifts of my sabbath.

  • Gratitude for the bodhisattvas of our world. Although I joined efforts to defeat Bush in the presidential election, and to garner support for Sarvodaya's work with victims of the tsunami in Sri Lanka, I took, by and large, a breather from activism. This restraint did two things for me: 1) it forced me to feel the grief of what's happening without recourse to reactivity and submerging that grief in the frenzy and self-importance of mounting some action or other. And 2) it impelled me quietly to identify with all my brothers and sisters who are taking action. To honor them, identify with them, and urgently pray for them. This allowed space for a fuller, more grateful sense of what they are doing--whether they're reporting from Baghdad like Dahr Jamail, or trying to get the votes counted in Ohio like Susan Truitt and Jesse Jackson, or, like my Sarvodayan friends in Sri Lanka, rebuilding lives decimated by the tsunami. So, strangely enough, the stillness of my sabbath year heightened my sense of connectivity with brother and sister bodhisattvas--in the living web of Indra's Net.

Having talked about the gifts of stillness, I should in all honesty mention two projects that insinuated themselves into this sabbath year. One is the completion, with my co-translator Anita Barrows, of a new volume of translations of Rilke's poetry. In Praise of Mortality: Selections from the Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke will be published in March by Riverhead Books. I cannot begin to describe the sheer goodness and joy this effort has brought me, both in the process and the product.

The other project is a study-action group on the issue of uranium weaponry, which grew out of our August intensive in the Work That Reconnects. Meeting monthly, our "pod" of some seven or eight bright souls bring hard work and high spirits to a pretty ghastly subject, convinced that knowledge about it will help turn our nation away from war. Look at the fact sheet we just created, and posted on this website under Nuclear Guardianship. I don't know whether the grim information it offers can convey the warmth and gladness that our pod finds in working together.

Fran and I leave for Australia on the 18th and will be gone until mid-March.

Yours for Earth and always,

Joanna