Responsible Science

“. . . it is precisely the “objectivity,” the moral neutrality in which the sciences rejoice and attain their brilliant community of effort, that bar them from final relevance.”

                                                                                    — George Steiner

Reading Steiner is a slow business.  Several times on any given page I come upon a sentence so arresting, I can’t go on, but have to pause and take it in and reflect, usually with surprise and gratitude, on what it has disclosed.  This is one of them—not even the whole sentence, but a thought about science that might seem heretical to some of the scientists I know—or a harmless notion that only scientific outsiders would indulge in.  Steiner is a philologist, so, though he is one of the finest minds of his generation, what does he know about science?

But I believe most of us know, and have known for a long time, that science is never morally neutral—that the ways information is gathered and analyzed and assessed and reported and put into practice are morally significant at every step.  Who pays for research, how the experiment is designed, what is excluded, when results are deemed sufficient, and why some results never get reported all matter in more ways, I think, than we are trained to imagine.

We need that training—at least enough of it to ask the questions.  We can do this ourselves.  It doesn’t take expert instruction to teach ourselves to ask the fundamental questions that always deserve to be raised about human endeavor: What is the stated purpose?  Might there be other purposes?  Who is involved and what are their vested interests? What tradeoffs might be involved in pursuing this objective or outcome?

At the beginning of his fascinating book The Poetics of SpaceGaston Bachelard makes the deceptively simple claim, “There is no such thing as neutral space.”  Every space humans inhabit is charged with intention and effect and meaning, or, if you’re inclined to think in these terms, with vibrations and energies, currents and flow and feeling.  There is no such thing as a neutral lab.  But I remember a more or less friendly argument with a scientist I knew who insisted with some vehemence that it was not his job to speculate about the moral implications or possible misuses of the information he managed to uncover.  Einstein would have disagreed with him; his famous “Woe is me” after hearing of the bombing of Hiroshima was one of the more sobering moments in the moral history of science.

The friend who refused moral responsibility worked for a university, as many do.  The results of his work belonged to the university. More and more, information is owned and protected, commodified and sequestered for the use of those who can profit from it.  As soon as it becomes property, it ceases to be “objective,” if it ever was.

We in the West have invested a lot of faith in objectivity, but over the past century the myth of objectivity has given way to different understandings of how we come to “know” what we think we know, how qualified our knowing is, and how mysterious, how at the edge of our knowing we always face “the great mysterious.”  Scientists who acknowledge that, who are capable of allowing for ambiguities and uncertainty, who are able humbly to qualify their certainties, who resist reductionism, are the ones I trust.

They’re out there. They pay attention to their intuitive moments.  They know they’re subjects with subjective feelings and points of view.  They know their curiosities emerge in the soil of personal history.  When they have a choice they choose their research paths out of an attraction we might call love.  They work meticulously with the tools they have, hoping not to do harm, knowing they could, treading lightly on what—even though the university or the industry owns it—is, after all, holy ground.

Watching Others Grow Old

Image courtesy of snappygoat.com

I’m thinking, I’m so glad this isn’t going to happen to me.

It seems like a terrible fate, to drag out your trash bags

and then head for a facility somewhere.

— from “Jane” in Imperial by George Bilgere

I’ve just reread George Bilgere’s unsettling poem, “Jane.” In it, the speaker gazes across a wintery urban street at an old woman moving her heavy trash bags. He thinks about the difficulties of growing old. He doesn’t want to grow old. He somehow doesn’t think he will. He stays on his side of the street.

The thing about the speaker, I’m thinking (I’ll call him Joe) is that he’s a thoughtful guy. At least he thinks he is. Also probably one of the few who pauses in the street when it’s cold, even snowing, to pay attention to Jane.

He does pay attention. There’s a lot of attention in this poem. That’s the great thing about this poem — how it gets you to pay attention to attention.

Joe (we’ll call him) notices how heavy Jane’s trash bags are. His unusual aesthetic sensibility is worth noticing — how he watches the bags turn white and gradually disappear. How the grey colors of winter provide a kind of setting for this poem. That Joe is composing, even as he watches Jane “taking out her ominous trash bags.”

“Ominous.” That‘s good. It goes with “black” and “vanish” and “terrible fate.” And all those good verbs: Jane is “lugging” “dragging.” He really got something about what’s weighty and dark.

Joe knows how to do point of view. Someone taught him how to situate himself early on, relative to the object of attention — like learning how to establish lines of perspective in “Drawing I.” Jane is across the street. They chat on the sidewalk — a kind of neutral space between his world and hers. Public space, where private lives turn into theater.

And Joe is self-aware. He knows we’ll think the poem is about Jane. Then we’ll see that it’s really about him. How he’s claimed his own life and intentions, how he owns them, how he’s learned a kind of acceptance of what is, of a good life within reasonable limits.

Jane’s a good foil for that. Joe doesn’t want to be Jane. We don’t want to be Jane.

We don’t, I think, want to be Joe either. This poem makes me think about why I don’t want to be Joe.

I don’t like Joe. Which makes me sympathize with Jane. So I start imagining Jane’s life. Jane is old. If I get the blessing of long life I’ve been conditioned to hope for, I’ll be Jane. I think about what it’s like to be old.

Trash bags are heavier.

You don’t take down the heavy bowls, even though you’ve always loved to make the bread in crockery rather than lightweight plastic. You hate plastic. Using it is a concession.

You postpone picking up the socks. Bending has to be budgeted. You can’t afford too many deep bends in the course of a day. You protect your back.

Shopping isn’t fun. It’s mostly a sequence of decisions not to get things — putting them back on the shelf because they’re too expensive.

You refuse kindly invitations. You wonder whether finally tell them you don’t actually like making conversation about things that matter to you less and less, or seeing the look of pity of condescension in the eyes of younger people. Like Joe, across the street.

You like quiet. Quiet is like clear water. You drink it.

You stay in touch with fewer people. You don’t need the news updates. You wish them well.

You spend your words on what matters. You offend some people. You realign relationships. Some fall off the mattering map.

You laugh. You can afford to be amused.

You eat less, and when you want, and the same things, and you enjoy them. People feel sorry for the limits you’ve found you like.

Your doctor looks as though she’s hardly old enough to drive. You match wits with her. You’ve developed strategies for avoiding condescension.

Other lives float a little further out. You find yours in a calm spot.

You love the shade in the afternoon in summer. You even love winter days, though taking the trash out hurts your arthritic hands and leaves you short of breath, and you have to rest afterwards. You take a long time with your one glass of wine.

You drink it by the window. You like being inside, looking out, watching people like Joe diminish into the cityscape, looking up the long street, noticing how the trees soften all the vertical lines of highrises, noticing how the sidewalks, lined with trash, come to a vanishing point.

(also posted on Medium.com)

Gladdening

You will make me full of gladness with your presence. (Acts 2:28)

The English word glad comes from the Old English glaed, which means “bright, shining, gleaming,” as well as “joyous, pleasant,” and “gracious.” It’s a rich word—deceptively simple, and more domesticated now than it once was. What seems worth retrieving is the frank and surprising awareness our ancestors seem to have had that gladness is radiant—that gladness is a form of light. That when we are glad, we shine. And when we are “full of gladness,” as the Psalmist puts it, and Peter, we are bright with God’s own light.

I have loved the parting blessing with which the priests at our church close the service most Sundays; it begins with the words, “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind. . . .” Thinking of gladness as a light passed among us, one to another, like the light from the Easter candle, it seems a thing to be received and held with humble amazement—energy and beauty that flows inward, quiets and opens and fills and finally overflows.

It isn’t the same as exuberance. I often find other people’s exuberance a little oppressive when it seems to insist on being met and matched. It can be overwhelming, even overbearing. But gladness invites and welcomes and imposes no requirements. My heart has been gladdened by fleeting expressions, gestures, gracious words, and sometimes when I witness something larger that I would call “the beauty of holiness,” innocent and unconscious, powerful and radiant, that suddenly allows me to see the Christ who “plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his.”

Repeatedly Scripture directs us to “Rejoice and be glad.” I’m not sure gladness is something I can summon, but I can be willing to be “made glad,” to be “filled.” In those times when my heart is heavy and gladness seems unlikely, and when “gladdening” doesn’t come on command, I can, at least, let my heart be made glad. “Yes” and “thank you” open a crack in even the hardest heart where light can enter, and burn, and shine.

(image courtesy of snappygoat.com)

Sifting and Filtering

                 

 

 

 

 

. . . 

This, said our teacher, is the beauty of metaphor.

It opens doors.

What I could not know then

was how being a sifter

would help me all year long.

. . .                               — from “Sifter” by Naomi Shihab Nye

When, in the course of first-year English, it becomes necessary to pause and explain the value of metaphor to the more literal-minded, I often give a little “life is like” exercise: Life is like a branching tree. Life is like a river. Life is like a journey. But also, less obviously, life is like an onion, or the movement of clouds, or a jigsaw puzzle or a filling station. The assignment is meant to offer an opportunity to notice how each image may become a lens or a frame, open a door, invite its own surprising logic.

While the responses are sometimes a little flat-footed, stopping when the obvious has been made even more painfully obvious (rivers move and bend, trees root and branch, life has layers), some of them grow longer, become whimsical, drop into serious personal reflection. Some of the pieces are always moving and memorable.

The last lines of Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Sifter” move me in the same way: a sweet, playful poem about children imagining themselves as kitchen implements suddenly reminds us how a metaphor can open an avenue of self-understanding or grounding or hope. If we are sifters, we live our lives learning how to hold a delicate balance between holding on and letting go—learning to identify as we sift what it is we must hold onto and what we must let go.

My favorite seven-year-old recently completed and proudly displayed her first science fair project. She made different kinds of water filters, noticing how the water looked before it passed through gravel, sand, tiny mesh, coarse paper. We talked about how water comes to our taps through filters, and how we rely on those filters to help protect our health. I don’t think she’ll ever take water quite for granted after this. I also think of how many other things she may begin to notice have to be filtered, and how she may begin to seek and find what it takes to make an adequate filter—one that will keep the conversational detritus, aggressive marketing, bullying behaviors, or other harms from passing into the still well-lit quiet spaces of her inner life where pleasure in her own lovely being is still unpolluted.

We gather metaphors where we find them, like mushrooms. They give us our lives back on new terms. They are a little like mushrooms. You can find them in odd places. Some of them are poison. Some of them are truffles.

The Grief We Carry

“No matter what the grief, its weight,

we are obliged to carry it.”  — Dorianne Laux

One of the paintings on our wall is a palimpsest. Layers of color and design overlaying other layers of color and design, it seems a visual allegory of mind or memory—what we carry beneath the surfaces—beneath what Eliot described as a face we prepare “to meet the faces that we meet.” Grief is always there somewhere—the patch of midnight blue later covered by striations of red, the one brushstroke of pitch black that suggests a faultline in the green. We carry it, more or less consciously, shifting its weight as we go, sometimes gently leaving behind bits we no longer need, acquiring new ones.

A friend has been diagnosed with what is cancer, probably already metastasized. Another has contracted pneumonia in the wake of surgery that removed most of one lung. Another, having lost her husband, is coping with severe behavioral disorders in one of her children. And not many days ago seventeen people, most of them kids, were arbitrarily shot in Florida. Public sorrows and private ones begin to mingle in the disorderly mix of memories, physical shocks, media images and waves of feeling we carry. Grief, disbelief, morbid fascination, horror, dread, puzzlement, unsettled stomachs and wakeful nights lie in crosshatched layers, impossible entirely to disentangle, but always teasing us to return and see what we can piece together—see if somehow old stories might shift toward new resolutions.

Dorianne Laux’s poem, “For the Sake of Strangers,” from which the above lines are taken and which I read immediately after reading an article by a doctor who treated patients gunned down with an A-15, reminds me of how “commingled” our sorrows are with the kindnesses in which we find comfort. None of us knows what we bestow in the course of a day—how the merest gesture or word might fall into a well of need. When the need is mine, I am aware of how often occasions for gratitude go by so quickly, there’s no way to express the thanks, except to pay it forward.

Gratitude doesn’t paint over the grief, but it complicates it in ways that allow us to live more thoughtful, interested, curious, attentive lives where losses are not lost, but held and, perhaps just when their weight shifts a little, healed.

The Time it Takes


British doctors do less of everything, writes Lynn Payer, a medical journalist whose lively comparison of medical practices in France, England, Germany and the U.S. offers compelling evidence of the surprising degree to which medicine is culturally imbedded. American doctors do more. If you’re practicing medicine in this country, you’re very likely trained to err on the side of taking action. What Sunita Puri calls “unacceptable uncertainty,” the lag time between observation and action, the time it takes to listen to the inner dialogue between the trained professional self and the ancient elder who knows things, the time it takes to come to a decision, is very short. Doing nothing is precarious and embarrassing. And dying is a crisis—not a time to do nothing.

What I love about working as a volunteer with hospice—an organization that originated, significantly, in England—is that dying is not a crisis. It is a process to be witnessed. The hospice facility nearest where we live is a house in a residential neighborhood, where families can come and be with the dying, make meals, rest, weep, pray, talk, walk in the garden or—since, as one staff member put it, there is “no judgment” there—watch football if they want to. Medical professionals make sure the patient is comfortable and out of pain. People accept that dying is what is happening. There is very little to do.

I hope the rest of medicine, and certainly medical training, may continue to learn from those who work in hospice or palliative care to expand—even a little—the window of acceptable uncertainty, or the time of doing nothing. In this culture both patients and doctors are conditioned, partly by medical soap operas, partly by pharmaceutical ads, partly by a culture that has made outcomes and measurable results on every front a measure of validity, to see illness and death first as problem, then as crisis. The higher tolerance of the British with their cheerful stiff upper lips and their trust in resilience may offer something we can learn from, especially in emergency rooms where people are doing one of the things all people do—dying of natural causes. Shutting down. In due time. In the fullness of time. Taking the time it takes. The dying take their time. We need to learn, again and again, to take ours.

At the Margins


Milling around at a reception recently I lost track of my husband. Everyone was standing, coffee in one hand, some form of questionable sugar product in the other, chatting amiably. I spoke with a neighbor I hadn’t met, a local artist whose work I admired, a lively woman who is adjusting to a new season of life. All these were conversations that might well have continued happily for some time.

Then I spotted my husband, sitting on a bench provided for those who found it fatiguing to stand. He was talking with a man whose sturdy cane leaned against an outstretched leg. The bench was near the exit door. People who made their way to that corner were shrugging on coats, disinclined to make one more stop on their way out. Expressing his pleasure in meeting John, the man mentioned matter-of-factly that his visiting occurred mostly on the margins of any gathering he attended. So many “coffee hours” or receptions depend upon standing. Those who sit are hidden behind a screen of vertical figures. They don’t “mill.” They learn, if they keep coming, to accept whoever drifts their way and engage.

I began to think about how many social occasions depend upon health, and how even slight disabilities can change one’s social opportunities, objectives, motives for attending festive occasions, notions of what “friendly” looks like. I remembered a good-natured but edgy essay by a man with AIDS who visited an art museum in a wheelchair. He described his view of the paintings with titles like “Still Life Obscured by Large Gucci bag” and “Portrait of the Artist with Obstructed Face” and “Landscape Interrupted by Backpack.” Disability awareness, like diversity, has received wider and long-overdue attention over the past years, but really developing that awareness—the habit of noticing in situational, sudden, flexible, subtle, imaginative, and compassionate ways—is an ongoing education for all of us.

Years ago when I asked a student who came to class in a wheelchair what was the one thing she’d most like her able-bodied colleagues to “get,” she immediately said, “Whenever you can, sit down to talk to me. I get so tired of being looked down upon. I find myself longing to look someone in the eye at eye level.” Perhaps that stuck with me in a particular way because I’m tall and, especially among other women, I “look down” a good bit. But eye-level encounter matters. When a doctor sits to ask me how I’m doing, it changes the conversation. When I squat to talk with a small child I see how they open up, suddenly aware I’m taking them seriously. “Eyeball to eyeball,” as my husband puts it, is where truths may be told that you’re unlikely to hear anywhere else. I left that bench by the door after the reception resolving to find a similar bench at the next public meeting, or a folding chair in an under-populated corner–and change my eye level. There, slightly beyond and beneath the noise and haste, some lovely, lively moments, unavailable at other altitudes, may find room to happen.

Very Particular

Two different caregivers in the “Care Center” warned me as I set off to meet my new hospice patient, “She’s very particular.” One of them said it with a slight lift of the eyebrows. “You’ll find out soon enough,” he seemed to imply. “Don’t be surprised if you find yourself irritated. She’ll drive you a little crazy.” I inferred all this. It was the eyebrows. They made me apprehensive.

The other nurse, the harried one at the station, when I said the patient’s name, looking for her room, told me the same thing. “Well, she does like visitors,” she said, but then added. “But she’s very particular.”

About what? I wondered. Did she complain about her food? About the way people spoke to her? (I remembered how my 94-year-old grandmother, witty, dignified, and kind in her mannerly Old Virginia way, felt affronted by 20-somethings who called her by her first name.) Was my patient—let’s call her Mildred—particular about how you touched her things? Or her? Was she particular about language?

I don’t mind particularity. I have come to appreciate more than I used to people who are particular about their use of words, or about the way they set the table for company, or about where their food comes from. The word means paying attention to the part—the particle—the trees, for the moment, rather than the forest. Or the bark on the trees. Particularity seems to me to provide a pathway to pleasures that can only be had by means of close attention—pausing, noticing, allowing awareness to dawn “a ribbon at a time,” as Emily put it.

Mildred greeted me with a certain curious satisfaction. “I wondered if you’d actually come,” she said. You said you’d be here at 4:30, but I wondered. So. I’d passed her first test. “Sit there,” she said, gesturing toward the one chair in her half-room, tucked under the built-in desk she will never use, bedridden as she is. As I pulled the chair out, she said, “I don’t know what got on that chair. I thought someone had spilled something, but now I think it’s paint spatters from when they painted the wall. You’d think they’d know to cover the chair.” It was an apology, of sorts. I took it as a habit retained from the days when she was hostess and oversaw all provisions for guests. I didn’t see any paint, but I agreed that one had a right to expect that painters would care for the furniture.

Mildred has lost a good measure of her hearing and doesn’t see well enough to read even large-print books for very long at a time. She loves to talk, and does so with clarity and energy that belies her much-diminished physical condition. If I have questions I have to write them down in large letters. She peers at them them carefully, reading them out loud, and answers with entertaining particulars. She gets quite a bit of mileage out of even the most ordinary question—What were you doing while your husband was fighting in Japan? Where are your kids now? Why did you move back from the east coast?

The particulars in Mildred’s memory are like jewels pulled one by one from a chest. She enunciates. She corrects herself to make a point more specific—and sometimes corrects me. She notices things. I like that. I have come to appreciate her particularity as a gift in the middle of an otherwise too-hurried and sometimes scattered day. She takes careful notice of the thing at hand—and the person. When that’s me, I feel particularly honored.

Lines that Come When You Need Them

One of the best reasons to read poems, reread them, and learn a few by heart is that lines come back to help you when you need them. A haunting turn of phrase will turn out to provide a fitting response to a moment for which words don’t come easily. An apt image will protect us from the seductions of popular clichés. A clear and simple sentence will speak our sorrow.

I wrote a list recently of answers to a question students have posed in various ways over the years as public events and personal pressures have seemed to render poetry irrelevant: why read a poem at a time like this? (Surely public debate, technical training, good journalism and service at soup kitchens are more urgent, are they not?) I believe the not so obvious reasons to read a poem are especially pertinent at a time like this — in the aftermath of an election many of us fear will unleash a cascade of consequences, especially for the poor and vulnerable, people of color, immigrants, women, and the earth’s ecosystems, that are hard to face.

Rather than recite those reasons, it occurs to me to share lines from poems that have returned to me since November 8 and have given me moments of consolation, direction, clarity, renewed resolve, sober reflection and even laughter in the midst of the torrent of reaction that has been unleashed. My intention is to reflect on lines from particular poems over the coming days in the hope that what comes back to me and gives me encouragement may serve similar purposes for any of you who read this, and perhaps lead you to the poems I plucked them from and receive other gifts offered there.

Here’s the first of several, from Wendell Berry’s “Manifesto: Mad Farmer, Liberation Front”

So, friends, every day do something

that won’t compute. Love the Lord.

Love the world. Work for nothing.

Take all that you have and be poor.

Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace

the flag. Hope to live in that free

republic for which it stands.

I read this poem, and these lines with particular emphasis, to a class of graduating seniors on commencement day a few years back. Some of them had been in classes where I had urged them to “keep one foot outside any institution you inhabit, and a careful, critical eye on its processes.” I have to admit that right now I’m more inclined to denounce the government than embrace the flag, but Berry is right to call our attention to the hope those colors represent, and to reclaim that hope even when, to some of us, the immediate future (and, with climate-change deniers in power, the long-term future) looks bleak. Hope is a form of energy. It is a measure of intention, and of faith. It is a gift and a virtue — a spiritual muscle that operates on both voluntary and involuntary impulses.

To do what won’t compute is a cryptic reminder that what we need most as we struggle to live in healthy communities on a healthy planet is the capacity both to organize our knowledge, foster collective impulse control and also to imagine and dare what doesn’t fit the norms of the moment. Yesterday I read a valuable blog entitled “This is Not Normal” (http://joshuafoust.com/this-is-not-normal/) that reminded readers that “the one thing authoritarians want you to do is to accept that their conduct is normal, even when it is not.” As norms shift and behavior once regarded as unacceptable by both legal and moral standards is tolerated and, by some, celebrated, the challenge to challenge those norms every day seems pertinent, even if only by saying, in effect, “Wait — what are we doing?”

I love Berry’s lines for their hospitality: he speaks to us as friends. I love them for their openness to others’ imaginations: the “something” that won’t compute could be any of a number of acts of creative resistance to dangerous compliance. I love them for their clear allusion to the Gospel challenge to give all that you have, to serve, to hope. And for their affirmation of a patriotism that knows its place and is rooted in a wider vision of peace and freedom. I recommend the whole poem, which recommends, a bit further on that we laugh, that we be crafty, and finally that we “practice resurrection.”

What Tennis Teaches

Return to the center

Meet the ball in front of you.

Forgive yourself immediately and get ready for the next shot.

Don’t watch your opponent, watch the ball.

Don’t analyze while you play.

Stay flexible and ready.

Finish the swing to full stretch.

Accuracy matters more than power.

Skill matters more than equipment.

Toss the ball higher than where you’ll be hitting it.

Let your partner handle her side of the court.

If you’re playing the net don’t look back.

Stoop to meet the low ones.

Don’t let points interfere with play.

Play is not performance.

Mastery is not anxious.

Though I love the feel of a solid hit and the racket in my hand, I’m not a particularly good player. But tennis has taught me some of my more durable spiritual lessons. Forgive yourself immediately, for instance, and wait for the next ball. It’s good to remember that as I make my way through the day’s tasks, trying to remember the adage that if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth doing badly. Don’t just swing with your arm–swing with your whole body. In other words, to quote a worthier source than my inner coach, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Be fully present, fully invested, fully awake and available. Don’t analyze while you play. Overthinking, one of my more persistent forms of self-sabotage, is like driving with one foot on the brake. Hit the ball and let go of the result. It’s on its way. It will do what it does. Physics has taken over. Tensing and watching won’t help it along its trajectory. Accuracy matters more than power. My brother taught me this when he noticed I was trying too hard. “You’re a girl,” he said, “you’ll never overpower your opponent, but you may outsmart him.” And as the shots come and the pace quickens and you run to meet the wild ones just this side of the line, Always return to the center.

This last instruction, reiterated with irritating frequency by my hippie coach (who also urged me to loosen up and “go for the yogic moment”) began to leak into the hours beyond the tennis lesson. After a mad rush to find keys on the way out the door, after a frustrating encounter with a student, after 20 minutes spent searching for an inexplicably disappeared document on an aging computer, the simple instruction, “Return to the center” comes like a whisper from the wise woman within—who keeps rather quiet a good bit of the time. I like her when she shows up.

So where is the center? It’s the place from which I can remember that most of my problems are “first world problems”—solvable, manageable problems of the privileged that are not life-threatening, and may be offering me lessons I need. The center is the place from which I can regroup and reframe and regain an inventiveness that makes problems into puzzles. It’s the place where I remember my deepest purposes. It’s the place where I breathe.

Breathing takes me there. Every meditative tradition I know teaches this: stop. Breathe. Breathe into your whole body. Receive, Release, Receive. We receive life and release it. Every breath is a new lease—life again. This time. And every serve, every shot, even the missed one, is a new opportunity.

St. Thomas Aquinas claimed that “All knowledge comes through the senses.” Our access to things spiritual, metaphysical, even mystical comes by means of what Mary Oliver called the “five rivers” of the senses. What the body knows makes its way to mind and spirit as we begin the long journey of learning, rising and falling our way to first steps, swinging and balancing and throwing and catching, grasping the pencil and the paintbrush, bending into “downward dog” position and stretching after a long run. Tennis taught me that a tiny change in the way I grip the racquet can make a lasting difference in precision and control. And that skill is rooted in trust. And that finding the sweet spot is worth the work. And that right-minded work is play. And that the moment of grace, when it comes, is always a gift.

(see also at www.medium.com)