Kindness

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I have just learned that Stuart Kestenbaum, long time director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, is leaving his position in the spring of next year. My last post discussed at length my last Haystack experience, and how transformative it was for me and for the people in our class. One of Stu’s great gifts is his incredibly wacky sense of humor: his voice is soft and his manner full of grace, and his jokes sneak across to you almost constantly, causing everyone in his presence to have no choice but to laugh. In addition to this, he is a beautiful writer and has a habit of sharing poetry with Haystack attendees, including myself.

When I went to Haystack two weeks ago, I was shrouded with doubts and feeling regarding an ethical position of mine in this life: one of attempting to be truly kind to all people regardless of how they act outwardly. A couple of years ago, I started trying to adopt an attitude of not taking anything personally and understanding that we all act out of fundamental self interest, regardless of how things may feel in the moment. Recently, I had added to this philosophy by tacking on the idea of impermanence, or the temporary nature of all things. I find that when people are challenging, rude or just plain mean, an attitude of understanding it is not personal, but rather is something happening within their own hearts, and that the experience itself passes in mere moments, it helps to remain kind and to feel solid enough in my own self to keep progressing in this beautiful game that is life.

Here is the poem that changed my doubts into confidences a couple of weeks ago. Stu read it to us on Saturday night, just before workshops started, and it changed my questioning feelings into feelings that made me feel stronger and more determined to do what I love to do on the Earth, which is to talk to people, share with them, be kind to them, try to understand them, and help them express themselves in positive and productive ways.

Lots of love and admiration to Stu: wherever he goes from here is lucky beyond words to have him tell stories in his unique, lilting and loving style.

Kindnessby Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

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