The mystic is not a special human being. Every human being is a special kind of mystic. – Br. David Steindl-Rast

“Thank you all for coming. And for this beautiful set-up that we have. If we just sat here all afternoon admiring these flowers that would be enough.”

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Flowers from “the beautiful set-up” of the July event.

With this invitation to stop, and look, and take in the incredible beauty and fragrance surrounding the stage of the Cowell Theater in San Francisco, Brother David Steindl-Rast welcomed a crowd of almost 300 people who turned out to celebrate a dear friend and teacher’s life on his 90th birthday; and he opened a lively exploration of  “Everyday Mysticism;” the “go” of  his three step method for grateful living – “Stop, Look, and Go!”

In introducing the guest panelists on stage, Kristi Nelson, executive director of A Network for Grateful Living, highlighted  their “common ground” noting they “lovingly question and subvert the basis of dominant cultural paradigms in engaged and constructive ways; and model new possibilities of bringing justice and democratic values and deep spiritual relevance to outmoded, unjust ways of thinking and behaving to their work everyday.”

To begin to lay the groundwork for the dialogue, Nelson asked the panelists and crowd gathered, “How do we navigate this experience of our short time on the planet? How do we navigate it in such a way that calls for leaving it better than we found it and to do it with compassion, joy and great love? Mystics dive deep into these questions –and callings and can teach from their enlightened experience,” adding that the mystic by definition “is not content with having a mystical experience for his or herself but sees mysticism and their mystical experience as being of service and purpose for a larger world and transformation.”  

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Soren Gordhamer

Panelist Soren Gordhamer, founder of the Wisdom 2.0 gatherings, which explore the intersection of technology and spirituality, began by recalling walking with brother David on the grounds of Esalen many years ago, eager to share his philosophical views and brother David kept pointing out all the beautiful flowers. “He was trying to teach me something beyond my philosophical desires,” Gordhamer recalled. “Am I lost in the present moment or lost in my ideas and theories?” Gordhamer reminded brother David that many years before, he likened the spiritual life to being in a row boat where you have to fix leaks – working hard to sustain a level of awe, joy, and compassion. “Has your practice changed?” Gordhamer asked. “How would you define what you wake up seeing as your practice – your mystic work?”

“If you ask me that question today,” brother David replied, “instead of saying the spiritual path is not like a train that you get on with tracks – at that time apparently I said it was more like rowing a boat. Today I would say it’s like walking on water!”  

Br. David continued, “Thomas Merton put it very well. He said: The spiritual path does not consist in putting one foot in front of the other.  But in opening your eyes and seeing that you’re already there. That is really the important thing. We are there!

“And sometimes walking and asking about the path and making all these efforts is just an alibi for doing the one thing that we somehow know we should do which is to open our eyes and see that we are there. We keep ourselves busy walking.”  

“But when you realize it, every moment you are confronted with that great mystery that is life. I’ve often said when I use that term mystery I don’t mean something vague. I mean something very specific;  that reality – that actuality – that we can not grasp. We cannot get it in our grip. We cannot intellectually conceive of it with concepts, but we can understand it and we understand it by standing in it and by letting it do something to us, and that is the great difference. Are you living moment by moment  trying to grasp something  and take hold of it and having your plans and your own ideas and concepts? Or are you going into every moment and allowing life to move you deeply, to touch you? And that takes a lot more courage because we always want to have everything under control. If we are in the moment and open ourselves to life and keep our eyes and ears and all our senses open to ‘what is life giving me at this present moment? What is life saying to me? What is life expecting from me?’ That is living the spiritual life. That means being really in touch with mystery.

The example I like to use these days for our relationship to mystery to make it more accessible to most people is music. Music you cannot grasp conceptually. You may understand something about music. But music as such – the essence of music – you understand only by how it moves you; and then you understand, you don’t grasp; it’s a different movement. And most people have experienced that. Music is a very good example of the mystery that we encounter moment by moment with which we have to interact.  

“Our whole practice of gratefulness in the last analysis is a method to really allow ourselves to interact with that great mystery that is life, that aliveness.”

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Diane Musho Hamilton

The next question came from Diane Musho Hamilton, a Zen practitioner who brings her training and experience in meditation to her work in conflict resolution and mediation. Curious how brother David could be both inside his own spiritual tradition and yet reach out beyond it, Hamilton asked: “How have you managed to flourish within the context of a tradition and still extend beyond it, and not get kicked out?”

“I’m very blessed to stand in a tradition ever since I was a child in which I feel very comfortable,” brother David answered. “I was born into that tradition. I was raised in that tradition –  and can make my own expressions of that Christian tradition –a particular Christian tradition. All the archetypes speak to me, so I’m very much at home in the Catholic Christian tradition.”

“First of all, Catholic already means ‘all-embracing,’ so if you are really Catholic you ought to open to everything else and everybody else. I’ve come to look at all the spiritual traditions in the world as so many expressions of one basic human spirituality. I like actually to call it human religiosity. But the word religion doesn’t have good press these days because we usually think of religious institutions. I don’t mean religious institutions.”

“The word religion emphasizes “the tying” – religare – tying together bonds that have been broken. Spirituality is aliveness – that’s what the word means. Aliveness. And religion means tying the bonds that have been broken – that is the bonds to our own true self,  the bonds between us and all other humans, all other plants, animals, the whole universe, the whole cosmos that are broken and damaged and need to be fixed. And our bond to that great mystery which we call Life or God.”  

“There’s a line from the Christian tradition from the New Testament: ‘In God we live and move and have our being.’ So, it’s not somebody out there but it’s the mystery in which we’re embedded – and alive – and to whom we can also have a personal relationship. That’s the mysterious thing. People want to have this God ‘out there’ because they feel we need and deserve and have a personal relationship. But they think it needs to be another person instead of realizing it’s our embedding in this mystery – and yet we can have this relationship. That is one of the most remarkable things. When I say, ‘mystery touches me,’ or ‘speaks to me’ in my best moments, this relationship is already there. Martin Buber has developed that very strongly. When I say ‘I,’ I have already presupposed this great NOW – this great YOU to whom I am related and out of that relationship you can also live. But all of this belongs to basic human spirituality – religiosity – and out of this humanness at different times  in history grows then, this-or-that tradition. And then it goes on and it has a life of its own and it makes a great deal of difference whether that tradition originated somewhere in the distant future where it’s all in a bit of a fog like in Hinduism; or in Buddhism very clearly which originates with a prince in a very clearly set culture; or later on with Jesus – a very poor person in an occupied country – a mystic and revolutionary who was executed as a revolutionary.”

“This sets apart three very different traditions. But in whichever tradition we find ourselves, it is a great blessing if you have a home somewhere and then you go so deep into that tradition that you come to the point where they all hang together. If you have not had the privilege of growing up and being at home in a particular tradition, then you have to go out and shop around.”

“But Swami Satchidananda put it very well. He said: ‘When you start digging – keep digging! Because if you dig a little here and you think, oh I’m not hitting any water, and then you go somewhere else and start digging, you start always digging and stopping before you really hit this deep water.’  

“So if you start anywhere – it  doesn’t matter where you start – but keep digging until you hit that water level from which all the different traditions draw their life-giving water in so many different wells. Since I look at it in this way, it’s very easy to be at home in one tradition. And yet – thereby I’m really at home in all traditions.”  

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Nipun Mehta

Nipun Mehta, founder of Service Space, an organization which encourages people around the world in small acts of service, raised a question that prompted brother David to reflect on the dark side of a religious tradition – fundamentalism, an attitude that can also surface in each one of us. Mehta asked: “How do you distinguish between good and bad intuition?”

“Where it is most difficult,” brother David said, “would be with fundamentalists – they know exactly what they want. I had a helpful encounter with one a long time ago – it was a Christian – but it could be someone from any other tradition. It’s an attitude in every tradition.”  

“It seemed this person had a private telephone to God! A very difficult situation. I tried to say to her – you really are very attentive and all the time listening to the voice of God and I think God would so happy if you also listened to all the other voices around. And I think that is the remedy. If somebody has only their own ideas – they may  be very good ideas – but why don’t you also check it out with some other people because what you called the negative aspect of this intuition – dangerous intuition – comes when we don’t check it out with others. When we have our own ideas and we are set on our own ideas and are not listening to others and checking it out with others. That’s really the basic attitude. That is what we have to learn. And through gratefulness – we are trying to open this listening process to whatever you meet in the present moment Gratefulness – we’ve said this many times – isn’t  just saying thank you – it is an openness to the gifts of life. And the input from all other people is one of the greatest gifts of life. And to open yourself to that input, that is the strongest help you get against what you call “negative intuition.’  Erroneous intuition. It’s really your own idea – your perceived notions that you call an intuition.”  

But there is an art to listening to your inner voice, Mehta continued. “How do you tease out all the inner voices and figure out, this is where I need to go?”

“There are these three voices,” brother David replied, “your own inner voice; the voice of all people – not only people, but I guess your dog and your cat and your goldfish…they are also talking to you, all of that is talking to us; and that mystery of life that is the deepest YOU that you are related to. And you are asking, how would you help people attune to that? We always come back to that key phrase and method – stop, look, and go. If you don’t stop, you are pulled  away with your own ideas. If you stop and don’t look, it doesn’t help much. You stop – and then look or listen to what is around you – not only what is within you – and you ask, what is it about this present moment that speaks to me? That listening is already a doing, and it tells you what to do, not with a big voice: this is the appropriate thing to do at this moment. And then you do it.”

Gordhamer continued to probe, asking how the practice of grateful living can help one be open to greater love in the midst of feeling strong negative emotions as in the case of considering the candidates in the current election. “How do you have  an open heart, if love is part of a spiritual path, what is the relationship between love and strong emotions against what someone is saying or embodying or standing for? Could you speak about the openness of the heart and how that works in terms of the practice of love and also the practice of honoring your own emotional reaction to a certain viewpoint of the world?”

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“That is a difficult but beautiful question,” brother David acknowledged. “One of the reasons why we have difficulty opening our heart is when we open our heart we open also to sadness, and to all the problems of the world. And right now, as you point out,  it’s a very difficult situation and very frustrating one. This gives me an opportunity here to say if you know any young people who are here – for heaven’s sake – VOTE! In the next election, it is the most important thing. I’m a little concerned so many young people who cannot vote for either candidate with conviction, feel they cannot vote at all. This is one of our responsibilities to do, that tiny little thing that we can do. I have voted so many times. I’ve been a citizen since 1956 – so 60 years – and in that time I had to vote many times, but often for the lesser evil. So it’s a great task. For heaven’s sake – Please do it this time. That is a way of opening your heart, to the messy situation that this life is most of the time. Not only in the political sense. It’s messy. If we wait until we can open to a little paradise – by that time you open it anyway when things are going well – it isn’t difficult.”  

Musho Hamilton turned to one of the greatest “messes” and  challenges facing our world and coming generations – an environment under siege, with her question: “From your perspective and all your years of experiencing life, is there a way you can you take solace in something that feels as threatening as what we’re experiencing?”  

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Again, brother David reminded us to trust in Life. “Well, that there is a force at work is so obvious the moment we stop and look at our own body. You don’t even know how to digest your lunch. It does it! You wouldn’t have the first idea how to do it It’s all working within you. You are just an expression of that force that is at work. And if it is in you – it isn’t privately in you – it’s working in the whole universe. And to trust that, we trust it with every breath that we take. We’re not asking, is this now polluted air; is it good air? We may think about it once in a while, but we breathe and our heart keeps beating. We can’t even stop breathing. The body does it. And to entrust ourselves to that life stream and life force in which we live and move and have our being, and relate also to it…that is important. Relate to it. Listen – it wants something from you. Not a big thing – not a big sort of vision or something. But, what does life ask from you right now at this present moment? It asks from us to talk with another and entertain everybody – and from you to be quiet and sit here and have fun. This is a very easy situation. But at other times it asks for other things. And to keep ourselves open. I think that would be the way to act responsibility. Response – it has it right in it. You listen and then you respond. And don’t expect big bang things. It goes in very small steps but the very small steps add up to everything else, add up to the big One.”

A question followed from Nipun Mehta, asking brother David for any advice on how to better hear – to discern – what Life is asking of us. “One of your practices is around ‘ask nothing’ and yet in our world today, especially in social change, I need to go out – I need to grab, and ask – I need to fundraise. If I don’t ask, how will the world know what I need? There seems to be a strong contradiction between this and the ‘ask nothing, refuse nothing’ modality of your practice.”  

“Ask for nothing, refuse nothing is a very good basic principle,” brother David replied, “but you might get into a situation where your task IS to ask!  Don’t ask for nothing – ask for nothing that life should give you, and refuse nothing that life gives you. And if life gives you in this present moment the task to ask for something, then ask. Don’t refuse it. One should take this principle – a good one – and apply it correctly. It means: Be in the present moment. Don’t say – I wish I were somewhere else. I wish the present moment would be different. Or, ‘No, no!’ That would be the refusing. ‘Stop’ means being in the present moment. ‘Look ‘ – what does this present moment, what does Life offer me? I won’t refuse it. What does life ask of me? It may ask me to ask of others. Our good friend Lynne Twist is a good example. She always knows when it is time to ask, and she has raised millions of dollars for people who really need it.”   

“We might need to ask, or even to refuse – that is an important “Go” aspect. We say ‘No!’  We put our foot down! Action today is very often protest, also political protest. It’s so much easier today.”  

“A couple decades ago, we used to go out and march with banners and placards. Now you just push a button on your computer. But DO IT, when it’s time to do it. We have a great responsibility all of us to be active in all these respects.”

“But you have spent most of your life practicing not asking,” Nipun continued. “When you have a desire and I ask for something – it’s very easy for me to jump after that desire and go for it. And it seems to be much harder to just hold that and receive – if there is angst of not fulfilling that desire, to just stay with it. You’ve dug that well all the way down, so for us “three feet-er’s” who’ve dug just a little bit, what advice would you give – how can we practice asking nothing and going all the way down?

“Well, in your eyes I’m the model and that’s fine I’m happy to play that role,” teased brother David. “But the practice is the important thing. There we have to ask ourselves. Who wants this? You spoke about desire. Who has that? And as long as it is ‘I’ my Self – my Self – I feel myself connected with all. That is when I’m truly my Self – because the Self is one for all of us. We all have one Self.  

Or is it my little ego –  and the ego is not something additional to the “I” and to the Self. It is just the “I’ that has forgotten that it is connected with all others in the Self. Then everything goes wrong. The moment “I” slips into the ego by  forgetting that we’re all connected, everything goes wrong. The moment this little ego remembers again – oh, we are all one really – I have nothing to fear – everything goes right. So ask yourself – Who has this desire? When there is, in any way, fear implied then we can be sure it is the ego. Because the ego gives itself away by  fear. And fear is not anxiety. That is another very important distinction we have to make.”  

“Anxiety is unavoidable. We always get into anxiety sooner or later. Anxiety comes from a Latin word that means narrowness – and so when things get tight, we get anxious. No one can help that. Now you have the choice at that point? Do you courageously go through – when we get the courage from trust – your trust in life and you go through this anxiety? Or do you fear? And say, ‘No, no, no!’” 

“Fear resists that narrowness. And when we resist then we get stuck in it. When you get into a tight spot and you resist, best is to as quickly as possible go through with it. There is the difference. When I feel fear – feel that resistance – that’s my ego. And I have to do that many times a day. That’s part of the practice. Then trust. Take a deep breath and trust. And whenever we do that, no matter how great the anxiety – how tight the spot is – we go through into a new birth. Through the birth canal. And we do that over and over again. And we have to do that over and over again. Looking forward we cannot see it so clearly. When you’re anxious you can’t see oh yes, it’s leading somewhere. That’s the whole point of the anxiety. You can’t see where does this lead? But you can look back and you can remember other moments of great anxiety when everything was collapsing around your ears – and now years later you see that that was the beginning of something very positive that might never have come about if you hadn’t gone through this disaster. And remembering that can give you courage enough to go on even though you don’t see where it leads.”  

As the baton passed to Gordhamer for another question, Soren paused in amazement and asked, “I still can’t believe you are 90 years old and you are as clear as this, and I’m wondering what your multi-vitamin is?”

He posed another question to brother David as a pioneer in the use of technology for the greater good. “How do you see technology being used for a greater purpose and do you have concerns about how we can navigate so that technology doesn’t take us over and become an addictive source but becomes a transformative source?”

“Well, to answer your first question, it’s a very great gift to be my age and be in good health. It’s just a gift,” brother David replied. “I’m grateful for all the many people that are praying for me. Because I think that makes a great difference. Whether they call it prayer or something else – they are sending  good energy. We have a saying that the thoughts of friends are already prayers for you. If anybody thinks lovingly, that sends good energy. I’m really carried on this good energy and I’m very much aware of that. And then, don’t think too much about how old you are! Think how old you feel inside.”

“I’m profoundly grateful to the people who from the beginning have used technology in a way that we were able to build up our website and serve many people and even many people who are not so gifted with technology to be able come in. That’s one of the most difficult things, especially for older people. How can you design a website so it’s easily navigable for other people?”

“As long as we keep personal relationships as the most important thing in our life, we might even be able to use all the technology at our disposal to strengthen these relationships and make them better.”  

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It’s not the technology. The technology is just a tool. But when you forget that the most important thing in life are personal relationships and cultivating them and cultivating friendship, then anything can get in the way of it, it doesn’t have to be technology. It can be something much more humble. Technology is not the problem. It’s our attitude. Are we really open hearted?  Do we see what are the important things in life? And there, of course, it helps to be old because the older you get, the clearer you see what’s really important and once you are my age, what you see is almost the only thing that is important is personal relationships. And I’m very grateful for all of you – to Kristi and the whole team – for making personal relationship the basis for our technology and the goal.”

Musho Hamilton continued with a question on generational differences. “If we were an audience of 20 year olds, what would you say to us about the changes that are coming – how to embrace them and how to find your center in such a rapidly changing world?”

“For heaven’s sake,” brother David exclaimed. “You want me – at 90– to tell them? I’m always so happy when I meet young people to ask them. They know. We don’t have to tell them. They will find their way. As long as we give them love and trust.  Help them find trust in Life! That is our responsibility as older people. Help the young people to trust life! That is not so easy for young people today. They tell you that.”

“There are two things that have to come together in order to help them have trust in life. First, you have to show yourself trustworthy. Always show yourself trustworthy to the young people, especially if they haven’t gotten that as small children. It’s very difficult if their parents or mother – or whoever functioned as their mother – hasn’t shown them trustworthiness. Then they have a hard time later on trusting life. That’s very difficult. We learn this early. If it hasn’t been shown to them – it’s very difficult.

“So the best you can do is show yourself trustworthy.”

“But the other half is equally important. Show them that you trust  them! I was blessed. We got this from our parents, both. They were trustworthy. We felt we could rely on them. We felt carried by them. They were there when we needed them – that was one tremendous gift that many people don’t have. The other half is they trusted us!  As children we were already sometimes surprised what we got permission for!  Going in the woods alone. And to be alone away for a long time. That was a great gift; that trust was shown to us – you can do it! And when you have these two things, then it’s easy to have trust in life and if you have trust in life they will find their way,  and they will show us possibilities that we have never even dreamed about.”  

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A final question invited from the audience came from Bob Emmons, a psychologist from the University of California at Davis who has been studying gratefulness and gratitude for many years and has known brother David for almost 20 years.

“I’ve been trying to promote the idea of gratitude through scientific research. I’ve always gotten a lot of inspiration from brother David and from his wisdom and just his openness to many paths  to  understanding whether it comes from mysticism. I myself have an apology to make – I have a profoundly un-mystical personality. But I’ve always been fascinated by gratitude and gratefulness. I was just trained more as an empirical scientist. I don’t know if that is incompatible with mysticism. Some say it is. I don’t know. But that’s not my question. That is more of an apology or a confession to make.”

Emmons continued, “There does seem to be right now an unprecedented amount of interest in gratefulness.  Scientific research has just exploded. People in all sorts of settings – health care, education, workplaces, even academia – are very much interested in gratefulness. In fact, the only field that doesn’t seem to show much interest in gratitude is politics. But every other field recognizes its importance. I wonder, How do we keep it going? Along with the Fetzer Institute, the Templeton Foundation has funded a lot of research in the science of gratefulness. The founder,  Sir John Templeton, once asked: How do we get 6 billion people around the world to practice gratitude? That was the population when he asked that question at the conference in 2000 in Dallas. Now it’s 7 billion. Now the question is: How do we get 7 billion people around the world to practice gratitude? We have all the science. But is that enough? Even if we took all the reprints, all the articles on gratitude – and we stacked them on top of one another – even enough to reach the top of the TransAmerica pyramid, or all the way out to Alcatraz or to span the Golden Gate bridge; even with all those studies, would it make a difference in getting 7 billion people to practice gratitude? Or do we need something else beyond the size of the science to really make that difference?

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“The answer in a word,” brother David replied, “is education. Through education we can – through the schools, through the home – we can do very much to make  a new generation live gratefully – that means open to trusting in life and creatively open to life consciously. We can do that. We can’t tackle the whole world at once. But we can start in our own little circle and we can start in our country and on our continent. In Europe the group that works on grateful living in Europe aims specifically at schools and bringing gratefulness into the schools. That seems a most effective way of doing it. There is one school in Berlin – a Protestant central school – where the whole school is built on gratefulness. It would be interesting for you to explore what they are doing. Not only the curriculum but the way they interact with the teachers, the students, and the parents of the students, and the janitor and all the others who work in the school. They meet and tell their appreciation for one another. This is one school which has pioneered this, but there are other schools.”

“Earlier this year, I was in Argentina. It’s a wonderful time in Argentina right now with a new government trying new things. Very positive things, really. I met many who are dedicated to improving things in that country including the president. They are really clear about it. We need a new level of spirituality. We need to bring our people to a new level of spirituality – a new level of consciousness. They are also aware of what Ken Wilber has popularized. And what we know now. That the only way that has so far proven to help people to get on to a new level of consciousness is some form of spiritual practice. It comes gradually – we go to a new level. But you can speed it up a bit – and the only thing that speeds it up is some form of spiritual practice. So the people in the government say, how can we introduce spirituality into the schools? There is a Hindu teacher that has a lot of followers but you can’t officially introduce this or that particular tradition into the schools. Gratefulness. Grateful living. That is something that no one can refuse. It is a human value. And yet every spiritual tradition says, Oh, yes, gratefulness is our thing! So they will make a very special effort to bring gratefulness into the schools. So education would really be the key. As you said Bob, there is a wave sweeping through the world apparently because this is what we need right now. Every time we sit down, we should make it a Thanksgiving feast!”

Jane Hirshfield

On that high and upbeat note, the afternoon conversation drew to a close, punctuated by a reading from poet and essayist, Jane Hirshfield, who paid tribute to brother David, a dear friend and lover of poetry, sharing a few of her poems, one featuring a redwood tree outside her window.  

“This tree holds simply  the awareness of the ‘large’ in our lives. I think this awareness begins in everyone in childhood and that stays with us as some part of a life.  But in some people, as we have seen with you, brother David, that awareness of the sacred, the divine, and the fullness of inter-connection ripens so fully that it takes us out of the house of the personal self and into the broad openness of the world of all. 

“And this largeness of heart and spirit create, as we have seen you bring to so many, an invitation – this beauty, these flowers, this mindfulness, this awareness of gratitude creates an invitation into a changed way of being that I think, once we see it and feel it and are brought to it, it would be impossible to refuse.”

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Tree

It is foolish to let a young redwood grow next to a house.

Even in this one lifetime you will have to choose.

That great calm being.

This clutter of soup pots and books.

Already the first branch tips brush at the window

Softly. Calmly.

Immensity taps at your life.

An evening of celebration and tributes to brother David from around the world followed.  One colleague and friend of many years, Michael Lerner, president and co-founder of Commonweal, sensed, as he thanked brother David, this immensity tapping at the doors of his heart and asked what might be taking place in the hearts of others gathered.

“I feel it in myself, and I sense something is happening here. That there is a form of darshan taking place that is acting on each of us very deeply.

“So my question for myself and others is: How far can we take this in? It seems to me that the real gift we can offer brother David on his 90th birthday is not so much to shower him with our thanks but simply to look inward to ourselves and say: How courageous can we be in allowing this to work on us and becoming who we truly are?”

It was brother David who by his example gave encouragement and a hint into addressing this question. When he arrived to the event, he asked for the time to personally greet every person who came to the celebration – all two hundred and twenty five plus people – which called for some light tap dancing by the planners as they adapted the schedule to accommodate this request. He greeted a long line of people before the event began, during a late afternoon break while signing books, and continued following the evening program until the last person in line had enjoyed a heart-to-heart exchange with brother David.  

In his tribute to brother David, long-time friend and Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, said that the gift brother David offers is his presence in meeting heart-to-heart.  

Kornfield told a story from the Christian Desert Fathers that helped explain what he meant. “It really isn’t about the Abbot’s generosity or even brother David’s. It’s actually what gets touched in us,” Kornfield said. “That you hear that story, and you say, yes, isn’t that beautiful and you say, yes, isn’t that beautiful, because you know what’s beautiful – that there is a good heart born in you – the original goodness, the beauty that you are as a human being from your birth, the fundamental nobility, Buddha nature, there are all these languages, and your divine nature. And the gift of that Abbot and the gift of brother David is that they are transparent to this gift that we all have, and so in being themselves so beautifully – in being himself – brother David reminds us that we, too, carry this gold.”

“In saying every human being is a special kind of mystic, brother David is inviting us all to discover that place inside where we are truly ourselves, and one with all. And to be that presence with one another in a kind of ‘everyday darshan,’ where ‘the experience of grace and connection that arises from the site of a holy being or a natural spectacle,’ – the definition of darshan – is possible for each one of us to offer, to be, for and with one another, and all life, in our daily encounters.”

As brother David offered his thanks, deeply touched by all that went into preparing such an “incredible and wonderful party,” he returned to the message of grateful living.  

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“Right now each one of you can spread the message of living gratefully and tasting all the JOY that it brings – that is really my greatest joy this evening. To see that it’s not me. I’m very grateful for all the nice things that you said about me but what really gives me joy is this wave of grateful living; that flame of grateful living that is setting the world afire. That is what we need. And so I’m deeply grateful to each one of you – especially, of course, the ones who have prepared this event, and our whole team and our website – to each one of you who came.  

Usually when I think of the best words to say as an ending, I like to say: Fear not! Have Trust in Life!

But on his 90th birthday, brother David added a slight twist to this message – encouraging us not to dally  – exclaiming:  “Fear not! And Run with it!”


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Kate Olson is a contributing correspondent for public television’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, where she reported a story on brother David’s life and work (2010) and edited a conversation between brother David and American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield drawn from their dialogue on “The Practice for Grateful Living,” in 2013. As a program officer for the Fetzer Institute, Kate worked with brother David and his team to launch Gratefulness.org. In recent years, she has collaborated with him to convene “Sangamas” – a contemplative small group dialogue form inspired by brother David’s mentor and friend, the late eminent scholar of world religions, Raimon Panikkar. To view video footage of the event covered in this report, please visit Full Event Videos: Everyday Mysticism.