Doug Bruns

Toward Wisdom #3

In Covid on May 23, 2020 at 6:28 am

Photo by Mattia Faloretti on Unsplash

Toward Wisdom is a series of thoughts in the age of Covid-19

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The last words of the Buddha were recorded to be:

“Things fall apart; tread the path with care.”

Siddhartha Gautama was born around 480 BCE. He wasn’t called the Buddha until a couple centuries later. It means The Awakened One. He lived in ancient India and taught for about 45 years, dying around age 80.

Of course right now these words seem especially potent. General life, schedules, commitments, normalcy, all seem to be falling apart. We are indeed treading with care, washing our hands, keeping a social distance, and exercising other measures to stay safe. Much of what we are doing might be interpreted as a means of self preservation. Of course this is true also. But I also like to think about treading the path with care as an act of compassion, a way of protecting the community at large. Marcus Aurelius said, “That which is not good for the bee hive, cannot be good for the bee.” Treading the path with care is one way of taking care of ourselves. But I like to remind myself that it is also an act of compassion in that it likewise protects my neighbors, my community, and the world. My mother used to ask, What is your motivation? It’s a great question and a challenge that is always foremost in my mind. If your motivation is to stay healthy, perhaps expand that a bit. For instance, we naturally also want to keep our family healthy. How about including your neighbors in that thought? Then expand it to include wider circles of people you know, even expand it to include nationwide populations and so on. (If you really want to challenge yourself, include people you dislike or disdain!)

Stay well. Be safe. Protect the hive.

Toward Wisdom #2

In Faith, Religion, Wisdom on April 26, 2020 at 11:56 am
Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

Toward Wisdom is a series of thoughts in the age of Covid-19

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I’ve been reading a lot of Merton lately, which is kind of weird frankly. Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk (Catholic), a wonderful writer and thinker, a robust contemplative. I say my interest is weird, because there is a lot of talk of God in Merton—talk which used to put be off right out of the box. That aside, the Trappists are known for their vow of silence, their vow of poverty, and deep contemplative lives. These are commitments to a contrarian way of things, a way of things which sometimes reveals doors of insight otherwise difficult to pry open. And right now we are all living a contrarian life, aren’t we? So I guess it’s not all that weird is it?

My great friend Susan, knowing that I’m currently in a Merton phase, recently sent me this Merton quote:

You do not need to know
precisely what is
happening, or exactly
where it is all going. What
you need is to recognize
the possibilities and
challenges offered by the
present moment, and to
embrace them with
courage, faith and hope.

There is much being said here in these few words. There is talk of release (“You do not need to know precisely what is happening…”), talk of being present (”What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment…”), and instruction (“embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”). These are deeply wise words.

I use these daily quotes and passages like a mantra throughout my day. I usually try to boil down the passage’s idea to a few words that I can carry with me throughout the day. For instance, in this case, I simply remember, courage, faith, hope. From there the rest of the idea falls into place. These three words are pretty heady. Courage is an ancient virtue, one of the Stoic’s four cardinal virtues, for example. Faith is a word loaded with religious connotation. That’s fine if that’s the way you lean. But one can also have faith that Spring will come, that there is order to the cosmos, and so on. It is easy to think of hope as something you wish in the future, of desire projected forward. That is one notion of hope, but not a very helpful one. For me, hope is the sense that I can face the unknown, experience the thing out of my control, but will not be mastered by it. It is my sense of comfort with the changing nature of reality, the ability to absorb paradox.

I’m sorry to belabor all this. But I wanted to share how I work with, and find meaning in these phrases and quotes. I talk a lot about a practice. Working in this way with an idea is a fashion of practice. I hope you find it helpful.

Be safe.

Toward Wisdom #1

In Wisdom on April 22, 2020 at 11:10 am

Wildflowers–Photo by Carmen Meurer on Unsplash

A year or so ago I was texting family members little quotes along with a brief description of what the quote meant to me and how I was working with it. But eventually the practice fell off. When the covid challenge arose I picked it up again, giving my missives the title, Toward Wisdom. (I know, sounds way pretentious.) I thought it might be of benefit to share them here, picking up from the beginning. If you’re interested in being added to the direct email group please drop me a note (, otherwise they will pop up here on occasion.

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Dear Family & Friends ~ Some of you will recall that not too long ago I was sending along (almost) daily text messages with an inspirational quote and my occasional thoughts and musings. I didn’t keep it up for all that long. Sorry about that—or perhaps you were relieved!

It’s my daily practice to find a quote that moves me and copy it to my journal, along with my notions about it. I typically pull from quotes and ideas that I’ve gathered from my readings. I prefer this to just pulling something down from the internet and broadcasting it, as it is of personal note and significance. Given the challenges we’re faced with right now, I thought I’d pick it up again and occasionally share with you. I would prefer to text, like I did before, but it’s easier to compose at my computer keyboard. Please know, you need not respond to these emails, nor even read them for that matter. The fact is, at a time when we feel like we should be doing something we are directed to do little, see as few people as possible, and remain distant. This little email effort of mine is a way for me to do something, to share with you a thought or notion I find helpful and supportive at a time when help and support is needed but difficult to provide. So here goes, a verse from a poem by Rumi.

“Very little grows on jagged / rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. You’ve been / stony too many years. Try something different. Surrender.” ~ Rumi

Rumi, was a 13th-century Persian poet Islamic scholar, theologian, and mystic. I’ve been reading his poetry lately and this verse jumped out at me. This was before covid-19, but now it seems especially pertinent. Whether we like it or not, we are being forced to try something different. And since that is the path ahead, be mindful of what you wish comes of this. Be less stony, more ground(ed). Invite the wildflowers.