Wednesday, June 11, 2008

All Real Living is Meeting


This is the title I chose for my blog, inspired by the existential philosopher Martin Buber, who provided a wonderful way of looking at those we meet. These days we are finding new ways of meeting—not only in person, or in books, a great way to get to know people, but through the internet, through blogs, websites, Utubes and more. With books you can’t reply to the author; with blogs you can, and a dialogue between two or more people sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings can develop.

I chose Buber as inspiration because he describes two ways of looking at those we meet. We can have either an “I and Thou” encounter, or and “I and It” encounter. With technology comes a danger that we get into more “I-It” than I-Thou” ways of relating.

To illustrate the difference between these two ways of relating, I used the example of saladmaking in my book, Contemplation and the Art of Saladmaking (Crossroads NY 1982—you can see it’s about time I got a blog). “Most of the time,” I wrote, “we enter the kitchen and grab ingredients from the refrigerator. We’re hungy, in a rush to get lunch, and we chop them up with hardly a thought in their direction. All we want to do is make use of the carrot, the lettuce, the watercress. This is an I-it relationship.”

I continued, “When have you ever stopped and simply looked at the lyrical lines of a lettuce leaf? Did you ever hold it up to the light to observe its subtle, transparent color (the green of spring, of delicate lace new leaves on trees, the color of New Life) ? Sometimes it’s good to stop and sense the wonderful red roundness of the tomato, or appreciate the design in its cross section. We simply need to be with the being-ness of a carrot or onion once in a while. This is an “I-Thou” relationship.

This kind of experience helps to preserve our humanity and better our personal relationships. It leads to "peak experiences," a concept of Abraham Maslow, a psychologist who, rather than look at what makes people sick, as did his predecessors, looked instead at what makes a person healthy, whole, self actualized so that they are happy, productive, and function well.

When I give observation and drawing experience to children, I tell them to draw, not to have a perfect end product, but to develop their observation skills. Looking at something carefully, simply for what it is, provides the basis for art, culture, and science. Let nature and objects, people and art speak to you simply by what they are, and you learn a lot.

I learned a lot last night when I took what I wrote this far to dinner, along with a salad, greens freshly picked from my garden. While cutting lettuce in the kitchen with Margo, the family Mom, winds outdoor grew louder, and Margo rushed outside to the front porch shouting "I want to see the rain.” She generated an excitement that spread to all of us, husband Andi, four children, another guest and I, the last to join them. I was in “I-It” mode and wanted to finish the salad, until I heard laughter and squeals, swooshing rain and peals of thunder. I ran to join them.

This family has no TV, and I was amazed at how they entered into the joy and excitement of nature putting on a great entertainment. We screamed at ear-breaking thunderclaps, watched curtains of rain traveling toward us at 50 miles an hour across a great green field, raising mists, creating waves of movement in trees and grasses, swishing through the foliage around the house. Everyone laughed, even more so when a gust of wind brought a shower onto the porch and us; we retreated indoors to watch from there.

It was an “I – Thou” encounter with the mighty forces of nature, but another kind occurred after dinner, with a focus on people. Andi began by telling of the best and the worst thing that happened to him that day. All passing of food was stopped to develop listening skills, though eating continued. When he finished, Andi gave the speaking role to one of the children, who told of the best and worst thing that had happened to him that day. He finished, then called on someone else. As each child received the speaking role, he or she politely asked if anyone needed to pass anything to replenish their food supply.

There were moments when someone wanted to interject their thoughts while someone else was speaking, but this was not permitted. Each person had their turn to be listened to; only towards the end would a little discussion be allowed.

I came home from this dinner with good feelings, and with appreciation for the preciousness, the goodness of everyone around that table. How great it is to appreciate others, and be appreciated simply for who we are.

I’m just starting this blog, and don’t yet know how it works, but I’m hoping others will be able to share their experiences of I--It and I-Thou moments, and what it means to them. I’m hoping to share thoughts, poems, stories, arts feelings, and all that helps us to be human. I hope to hear from you.

All real living is meeting Internet Explorer