Welcome to all of you new subscribers who signed up last week! I was fortunate enough to get a shout out from the wonderful Edith Zimmerman, who said perhaps my favorite thing anyone has ever said about this newsletter, which is that it’s “sort of like On Being, but darker and more relatable.” Wow! Thank you, Edith. I didn’t have a name for it before, but Goth Krista Tippet is definitely an ideal to strive for.
Foster, a collective of online writers I hang with, spent the last few months going through a series of experiences designed to help us open ourselves up to writing more and better. The only requirement was that at the end of the season, we each had to publish a capital T Truth we hadn’t articulated before. It could be an article, an essay, a tweet, anything. Easy enough, right?
Together we meditated, we marinated, we brainstormed, and we discussed. I attended most of the events and thought deeply about what I wanted to say. I took lots of notes and had lots of conversations with other writers on the side.
I found many truths I wanted to commit to writing, and started work on a handful. I just didn’t finish any of them. I write to you today with a declaration that my Truth is that I have had a very hard time landing on any single truth lately. It’s been that kind of year.
And yet there’s been a quote from the Zen philosopher Eihei Dogen rolling around in my head for weeks: “Nothing in the universe is hidden.”
It’s from a famous essay called “Instructions for the Cook,” a widely referenced text in the Soto school of Zen, where I practice.
The essay is exactly what it sounds like: instructions for preparing the meals in a monastery. But like pretty much everything in Zen, it’s way more than that. It’s about making everything you do a vehicle for the practice of being present with whatever is actually happening. To see things as they are instead of as you wish them to be, or forming some kind of value judgment about them.
Here’s another quote from the text:
Your attitude towards things should not be contingent upon their quality. A person who is influenced by the quality of a thing, or who changes his speech or manner according to the appearance or position of the people he meets, is not a man working in the Way.
Which I take to mean that the less I take situations (and people) at face value in favor of imposing what I think about them, the farther away I get from the truth. And the farther I get away from the truth, the more chances there are that I fuck something up as a result. That makes sense to me.
But “nothing in the universe is hidden,” that one gave me a harder time. Are you kidding? It seems like so much is hidden — because someone is deliberately concealing it, because I can’t figure out where to look, because there’s some other frontier out there waiting to be discovered, or for some other reason entirely.
But the more I’ve thought about it, it seems like even thinking about it that way is messed up. That’s just me trying to get what I want out of a situation — which implies that I somehow know how things *should* be. (And lol to that!)
When Dogen said “nothing in the universe is hidden,” I think what he meant was that the truth of our lives is always right there in front of us if we can just be there to witness it. And that truth is changing moment by moment, which makes it so much harder than it sounds.
So what does that mean? To me it means I keep my eyes open. And I accept that what might be true for me might not be true for you. Not right now, and maybe not ever. But it’s only through our interactions that the world goes on. So what else is there to do but to listen, both to ourselves and to each other?
As the philosopher Simone Weil said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
On to some other things I found worth sharing this week…
Continue practicing until you see yourself in the cruelest person on Earth, in the child starving, in the political prisoner. Practice until you recognize yourself in everyone in the supermarket, on the street corner, in a concentration camp, on a leaf, in a dewdrop. Meditate until you see yourself in a speck of dust in a distant galaxy. See and listen with the whole of your being.
- Thich Nhat Hahn
Thinking in Color
This is cool: a 15 question quiz that assesses how black-and-white your thinking is (by measuring your empathy, open-mindedness, flexibility, and intellectual curiosity). It generates an image that represents your mind like the one above. (Via the always interesting Recomendo newsletter.)
The Universal Mind
It is true of any subject that the person that succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning and [knows] that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and that he has to enjoy the step-by-step learning procedure. They’re trying to do a thing in a way that is so general [that] they can’t possibly build on that. If they build on that, they’re building on top of confusion and vagueness and they can’t possibly progress. If you try to approximate something that is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t advance.
You could do worse than spend 45 minutes this week watching this 1966 documentary about the mind and methods of genius jazz pianist Bill Evans.
Coming back to Foster, here are a handful of my favorite Truths published by members of the collective in recent weeks.
Art Lapinsch’s reflections on escaping the Yugoslav war as a child.
Avni Patel Thompson’s thought-provoking essay on how crypto is creating a new order that better rewards the contributions of women.
Juliana Barnet’s new newsletter about what she’s learned in her decades of activism, and explorations for the future.
Jesse Evers’ story of finding a new dimension in life (“this is your brain on friends”).
Dan Hunt on what rats, mangos, bipolar disorder and addiction have in common.
Truth! Some bangers, some bummers, etc.
And finally, here’s a playlist of songs about truths, secrets, lies, and delusions that came to mind as I worked on this issue.
Thanks for being here, as always!
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See you next time.
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