The Vision

Rumi Wisdom: You Are An Ocean

You Are The Ocean

I had a therapist once who, in an act of great kindness, told me, “You’re only little.” She meant me to know that the slings and arrows I’d suffered — and the fact that they’d drawn actual blood — did not make me a failure. I was not supposed to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or to transcend the ancestral wounds that had been handed down to me, my mother from her mother and back unto however many generations,  my father from the generations that came before him, and both of them carrying the psychic imprint, I imagine, of the African-American slaves and Native Americans from which we are descended. I was only little, so I could be forgiven if I sometimes found myself balled up in a fetal position on the floor, arms wrapped around my belly, as if I’d received some new punch to the gut. It was normal, she wanted me to know, to carry our wounds in our bodies, to not be able to single-handedly vanquish all suffering. It was something I needed to know, I who had imagined that I might save the world or at least my family, and who came to know the hard way that the only person I could ever save was myself.

The good news is that saving yourself is how you save the world.

I once heard someone say — I’ve long since forgotten who — that we give from our overflow, not from our lack. In other words, what you don’t have for yourself, you cannot hope to give to the world. And so, cast down your net where you are. Fish in the depths of your own ocean. And what you will discover there is that you are not a tiny drop in some vast ocean,  you are the entire ocean expressed in a single drop.

Deep Rumi wisdom, but when I read it I thought, “What in the world did it mean?”

Rumi, the great Sufi mystic was undoubtedly speaking in mystical terms. He wanted us to understand that we are not separate, tiny beings. He wanted us to know not that we were only little, but that we were vast and deep and extraordinary. He wanted us to know (and though Rumi was a mystic, these are also secular teachings) that we are more than we appear to me, more than we sometimes know. He wanted us to know that we come from vastness, and that we carry that vastness with us, in our beings, our bodies, our personalities as we move through the world. We have come then to do great things — on a big or small scale, it doesn’t matter. Some of us will play on the world stage and influence the collective narrative in big, splashy ways. Others of us will influence the people and communities that immediately surround us and, through the individual lives we touch, transform the larger human narrative as well.

Rumi wanted us to sense that doing the thing that we could do — and doing it like the badasses we are — wasn’t just a little thing. It was the only thing. 


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Rafting Your Zambezi

Rafting Your Zambezi

There is a great river in Africa known as The Zambezi. It’s one of the top whitewater rafting spots in the world, and it’s replete with crocodiles and hippos. In other words, there are more than a few ways to die on the great river, and in that it’s a lot like life. When faced with the wild majesty that is a human life, there are two maybe three ways to play it: you can stay your arse on the shore where your odds of being eaten by a crocodile or charged by a hippo are relatively low. You can dip your boat in the river but try to stay close to the relative safety of shore. Or, you can raft the darn thing, with all the glory and risk that entails.

I’m the raft the river type. I asked my mother, once, what she thought of me when I was a child. She said, “I thought you were adventurous, and tried my best to rid you of that. I was afraid you’d jump off the roof.” What she didn’t know is that I may have been young, but I had good sense. Not once have I jumped off a roof. I’m more the cliff jumping type. I jumped off the cliff into the creative life, and I’ve never regretted taking the leap of faith. Life, my life, is about the adventure, it’s about the journey we take through the rough terrain of a human life.


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Weaving The Tapestry
Of A Story And A Life


I’m at work on a novel and one of the joyous surprises is how frequently magic appears on the page, unbidden. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, but out of the threads of the story I’ve been weaving with a conscious awareness of the plot and where it is going. Coming from screenwriting, I’d imagined, before I started writing this book, that I understood the shake and rhythms and pacing of the book and that the plot I’d outlined was more or less the plot I’d follow. What I’d learned, however, is that the plot of this novel is just the skeleton and that the writing itself is the flesh and the spirit that animates.

So yesterday, as I was making good on my pages, some words found there way onto the page that weren’t expected, and it wasn’t just the words. It was the ideas, the concept, the metaphor that I realized would add another bit of texture to an already texturally rich book. This, I realized, is what language is, it’s how it weaves its magic, it’s why story imprints itself so deeply into the imagination. Words have one meaning. And, then, through story, they have another. Whole layers of meaning piled on top of one another — or, more accurately, woven into a tapestry until a world is made. In my story, my protagonist is weaving a tapestry from the many disparate experiences of his life. He is, in other words, as we all are, consciously or not (and most often not) weaving the story of his life from all the things that have come to him unbidden, and all the things he’s chosen, and all of his passions and longing and pains and disappointments, all of it grist for the mill, or threads for his loom. And that got me thinking…


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The Lost Art Of Mental Rigor


One afternoon last week, I sat in the living room of my father’s best friend, looking out at Lake Michigan from the penthouse floor. It was the four of us, my father’s great and lifelong friend (and schoolmate from the University of Chicago, where they both earned earned political science PhDs), his wife, an accomplished academic in her own right, my husband and myself, and we spent two of the most glorious hours talking — about Dr. Hamilton’s life and career (which intersected with my fathers as if they were the rhythm sections in each others’ bands), about his wife, the other Dr. Hamilton’s career, about their daughter and my father, who have both gone on to the great beyond, his daughter having left us in the plane crash that also took the life of Ron Brown, and my own father having lived to the ripe old age of 80, about the losses that shape a life and also the gains. It was cerebral and emotional and connected in a way that conversation so rarely is these days. It was a great reminder of how lucky we are when we have an opportunity to commune deeply with our minds and hearts engaged.

Dr. Hamilton and my father had the rarest of friendships. They were great admirers of one another, as human beings and as grand intellects who shared a deep commitment to social justice (they both played significant roles in the Civil Rights movement and in racial justice and human rights in the years beyond). Hearing him speak of my father with such love (and later hearing of my father’s great love for him from my stepmother), I was reminded of the proper role of the intellect in both public and private life. It is a lost art, this routine almost ordinary use of the mind through which we engage the big and meaningful ideas that turn our world.

I thought of those hours in Chicago when, upon my return to La La Land, where some of us work as hard as we can to pretend that nothing real matters, I turned on the telly and watched a couple of episodes of Showtime’s excellent if poorly titled series on global warming, The Years of Living Dangerously (you know a title’s a poor one when you can’t remember it to save your life).


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Act Three:
Your Greater Opportunity


In the Third Act of a movie, the hero comes back from his lowest. In screenwriting we call this lowest moment the “all is lost” or “the moment closest to death.” It denotes the moment, at the end of Act Two, when the protagonist has been bested, it seems, by his enemies and by circumstance. He’s fought the good fight and lost.

Any good life has low moments like these.  They’re the moments that make us. The moments that force us to dig deep and find depths of character that we may not even know we have. But necessity is the mother of invention, no?

When push comes to shove and the rubber meets the road, we find out what we’re really made of — or what we’re really made of now, after we’ve stretched and grown into a mature and powerful version of ourselves. It’s the work of adulthood to take shape, to become, to take the raw material of our fate and make from it a destiny.

Act Two is where we become an adult. It’s where life shows us what it’s really made of, so that we can find out what we are made from.


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