In the Pixar animation, Soul, middle school teacher and jazz pianist Joe Gardner has a sudden near death experience that sends him to the Great Before where he is assigned to mentor the little ball of potentiality known as Soul 22. Cynical and ornery, Soul 22 has for eons thus far resisted entering life on earth with all its bittersweet possibilities. Soul 22 is a kind of alter ego for Joe Garner as he weighs the meaning of his own life hanging in the balance. Soul. What does it mean?Is it what you feel when you hear Aretha Franklin or Luciano Pavarotti? Do you have a soul? Are you a soul? Is soul the breath of life, and what does it mean for your journey here and now?
Vocation comes from the Latin word for “call,” and it is deeply rooted in Jewish and Christian tradition. Originally meaning an occupation to which one is well-suited, especially a religious one, it has morphed into the idea of any work that is purpose driven. But notice that calling implies the relationship of a listener and a voice. In mindfulness tradition and practice, when we pay attention to what lies beyond our own ego, we become aware of the interdependent world we live in and the suffering surrounds us. Listening to the call we respond with compassion.
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Jazz basketball is a term from author, activist, and basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar and it refers to the creative interplay of the individual player and the team, like a soloist in a jazz ensemble. It is one more way of understanding what it means to live a whole and happy life in balance with Nature, the Universe, the Tao, or Way, as the Taoists call it. Finding harmony of ego and the greater self and our community is the challenge and the opportunity this life gives us.
Memories can be sweet or bitter, and sometimes both. This goes for collective memory, those stories and recollections of a people that provide meaning for us in our culture, and it goes for the individual. Whether we think of a holiday like Thanksgiving and all its ambivalences that we had this week, or whether it’s the remembered experiences that shape us as individuals, our emotional centers bring us back, again and again, to places of joy and pain. Can we use all of them to move into a better place, a place of wholeness and healing?
“We are a nation of immigrants.” We’ve heard it so often, and of course it’s true. Yet it’s not just Americans but all people everywhere who are travelers and seekers, as far back as we can trace. Whence comes this constant searching? Where do we come from and why? Is it for food, for freedom, to scratch an itch, or satisfy an ill-defined yearning? And when will we ever be at home? And perhaps the greatest question of all, being strangers ourselves, how will we treat our fellow travelers?
Sometimes we miss the greatest beauty because we are looking in the wrong places. Our attention is too easily distracted by the noise and flashing images of our media-drenched culture. We are swamped and a little brain-washed by the ideals Madison Avenue uses to sell, sell, sell. But then certain people and experiences cut through the din. They can show us what true beauty is and how to create a beautiful life that affects all who come near its orbit. Merlin Snider will talk about such moments and lives, and one life in particular that has deeply touched him.