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Contemplify NonRequired Reading List Email for December 28, 2017
The December NonRequired Reading List
The dark days of winter are enveloping us here in New Mexico. Night sky and pinhole stars cover me earlier and earlier each evening. With a deep cold infill of breath I see this as an exterior model of my internal state. A deep sense of not knowing has been swirling inside my being this December. I yearn to gain more knowledge about myself, this world, and what has happened to my ability to stay up past 10pm. This December has been a season of relinquishing my desire to know. I’ve been working with the poem “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte with a couple friends. The line, “The dark will be your home tonight” has steadily reverberated through my bones with each reading. The invitation to counterbalance my natural inclination to know is to humble my attention before the great mystery that envelops all of us. It is a sweet darkness. The sweetness of not knowing is tasted in the chill of one season giving way to the next, the wide eyes of a child inspecting my own like a crystal ball, our planet’s dire bill of health and those working to cultivate it’s sustainability, the damned injustice inflicting those on the margins and those who are rising to the occasion to resist. It’s the intersection of bearing the strife without a clear path forward and holding your post with hope and a wistful wink nonetheless. Whatever this season of life is holding for you, deep knowing or sweet unknowing (or likely a mix of the two), I’m grateful for your presence on this planet. It matters.
It’s been a year of kindling of the examined life here at Contemplify. It’s an honor to shovel this path towards conversations that stir our hearts and bolster the chutzpah to take another unknown step on this contemplative journey. As this year rounds out, I raise my glass to you. Thank you for kind eyes and ears in 2017. Contemplify will be back in 2018 with more contemplative readings and conversations to kindle the examined life. Wishing you and yours a happy New Year!
(Oh, one last thing before the reading list. A reader pointed out that Indiebound.org, an online consortium of independent booksellers, was more aligned with the independent and personal spirit of Contemplify than Amazon. I agree. So from now on, you’ll be seeing purchase links to Indiebound rather than Amazon. Tip of the hat to you, Stanley)
Is a Contemplative Life Still Possible? by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (read it at sojo.net)
Did you happen to catch the article, Is a Contemplative Life Still Possible? It was a resplendent reflection on the likelihood of cultivating a contemplative life in our times. The author leaned heavily on the rhythms and wisdom of one the great torchbearers, and one of my personal heroes, Thomas Merton. I whole-heartedly agree with this article, and I would like to salt in a few words of my own as it tasted a tad too monastically prescriptive for my hop-laden contemplative taste buds. I’ll echo what was too briefly mentioned in this piece, the question is the path. Just asking the question and shifting attention is an opening towards deepening a contemplative life. This pathless path has no arrival point, so a person’s entry point has infinite possibilities. Your entry point is found in the reality of your life. The reality that we touch, feel, taste...this embodiment, this is our monastery. So when I put my daughter to bed amidst her restless energy, the cries, and the ‘one more story, daddy’ plea, I am participating in the contemplative life. When I meet up with a couple friends for a pint and we each carry in a heavy bag of sorrows to put on the table so we can be seen and heard as we are, I am a contemplative. When I am in the presence of someone who grates against every fiber of my being and choose to practice patience and truthfulness even just for a minute I am on the contemplative path. When my wife makes me laugh so hard that my belly aches, I am relishing the contemplative life.
All of life holds the capacity to be on the contemplative path. My hope is that Contemplify can be an agent of memory, mystery and inspiration to the myriad of ways that contemplatives of different stripes are walking this hallowed ground...just like you. We are each holding our unique post in different corners of the world; attempting to lovingly attend to ourselves, community and the cosmos. And yet we are deeply connected by this contemplative path. The personal contemplative journey is a microcosm of the shared contemplation we are all embarking on in known and unknown ways. Contemplify is my way of waving you over and giving you a hug (or a handshake if hugs aren’t your thing) as we cultivate a contemplative way of being in this world.
Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul by Shawn Askinosie and Lawren Askinosie (Get it at the Public Library or Indiebound)
Shawn Askinosie is known for saying, ‘It’s not about the chocolate, it’s about the chocolate.’ Askinosie made the leap from being a criminal defense attorney to starting an award winning chocolate business. A business that works in direct trade with cocoa farmers around the globe. What does that mean? It means that Askinosie Chocolate pays their cocoa farmers much higher wages than the average cocoa farmer because they are building right and long-term relationships together. They also help their global partners find sustainable ways to educate, provide food and empower their children. Askinosie Chocolate also has a strong sense of knowing how much is enough. How many companies do you know who don’t seek to grow in size because it would disrupt their values? So, ‘it’s not about the chocolate.’ But then again, Askinosie Chocolate has won some of the finest awards possible for the quality and taste of their chocolate. The tight and trusting relationship with their farmers keeps lines of communication open for cultivating the highest quality cocoa bean. So you see, ‘it’s about the chocolate.’
Shawn is a soulful man who has dug down to the trenches of his life to find his true self. It turns out that making chocolate has become integral to his path of discovering his true self. There is vulnerability to this book that is striking from the start. It begins with the death of Shawn’s father when he was young to his own calling to make chocolate and to become a Family Brother at Assumption Abbey in Missouri. This book runs on parallel lines, a guided tour of this multidimensional man and a vocational workbook. In Meaningful Work, Shawn provides detailed practices that call upon the reader to take stock of their life, values, vocation and vision. Typically, I am not the type of person who takes practices like these seriously, but thanks to Shawn’s careful crafting of the questions and exercises, I realized I’d be a fool not to follow through with them. This book will entertain and enliven you to do just what the subtitle states: Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul. Look for a conversation with Shawn Askinosie on Contemplify in the New Year!
Joy of Man’s Desiring by Jean Giono (Get it at the Public Library or Indiebound)
This poetic novel about the rural pastoral life in the high plateaus is mesmerizing. It’s the story of small group of farmers who struggle independently to find meaning and joy in the rhythm of their daily hardships of survival. Then a stranger appears in their midst who spits poetic metaphors that often drop below a direct understanding, but still stir the souls of the farmers. The characters that exchange the most existential of questions are Jourdan (the host of the stranger) and Bobi (the stranger who arrives in the middle of the night). The primary thread of pining for joy and the attempts in which we we seek its fulfillment are told through not only the human characters, but the animals, landscape and sky. The beauty of this masterpiece is in Giono’s language and perspectives that are nestled in philosophical inquiry. The readers finds themselves aching with the critters, streams and sky as they bear witness to the human dramas. The passage from the viewpoint of the stag is particularly moving in light of his significance to this local ecology.
There are a multitude of characters, but I’d be the first to say that ‘joy’ and ‘death’ are the main characters that partake in a cosmic conversation in the unfolding story. You will wrestle right along with Jourdan and Bobi as they ponder - what is joy? Why is it so difficult to find it? How do the fear of death and hoarding of goods play hand-in-hand? What is the relationship between joy and death? Is joy more accessible in individual pursuits or community?
This book was recommended to me by Teddy Macker during our conversation. I can see why it lit him up; the mixture of fleeting beauty sandwiched between tremors of suffering while pursuing an everlasting joy. If you decide to pull this book from the shelf, know that it is 450 pages and finds its rhythm in the seasons and pace of the peasant life in high plateaus. This is another way of saying that it is a meditative read despite the page-turner drama you will sink into.
The three most recent episodes of Contemplify…
Episode 047: Mystic Soul Project and the Essence of Deep Spirituality with Teresa Pasquale Mateus
Episode 046: Ordinary Mystic & Contemplative Shoveler (Mark Longhurst Interviews Host Paul Swanson)
Episode 045: A Handbook to Midlife: Philosophical Tools, Wisdom & Avoiding the Midlife Crisis with Kieran Setiya (author of Midlife: A Philosophical Guide)
Thank you for your eyes and ears around the Contemplify basecamp in 2017, whether you are seeking new reads via the NonRequired Reading List or reflecting on the conversations from recent guests on kindling the examined life. You energize this ol chestnut to keep my own conversation with mystery, and my place within it, alive and well.
Listen well + read often,
P.S. Want to help spread the contemplative word? Take a couple seconds to rate and review Contemplify on Apple Podcasts. Thank you, it sure means a lot!