Nadav Spiegelman

Fragrant Palm Leaves

Thich Nhat Hanh and His Holiness The Dalai Lama
My last highlight
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My Highlights

Nighttime in the forest is not like nighttime in the city or even on a farm. At night, the sacred forest declares its absolute authority. The curtain of black is thick and secretive. Sitting in the study at Phuong Boi, I heard many eerie cries coming from the forest. By eight o’clock it was already night, and the forest’s dominance was restored. The whole universe sank into a profound silence that, at the same time, shimmered with life.
Mornings at Phuong Boi were as pristine as a blank sheet of paper, pure white except for a pink blush along the edges. We awoke with the awareness that twenty-four brand new hours were before us, and we would not allow anyone or anything to violate this time of ours—no meetings, appointments, or waiting for buses. The whole day was for us.
We could wear whatever kind of hat or boots we liked and tie any manner of belt around our waist. Sometimes, glancing in the mirror, I saw that I looked like a hobo. Sometimes I didn’t shave for a week. It wasn’t out of laziness. There were just other things I enjoyed doing more!
Some life dilemmas cannot be solved by study or rational thought. We just live with them, struggle with them, and become one with them. Such dilemmas are not in the realm of the intellect. They come from our feelings and our will, and they penetrate our subconscious and our body, down to the marrow of our bones.
We also found a shop that sells high quality rice in ten-pound bags. Most Americans buy rice in tiny cardboard boxes.
Steve understands my nature, and so turns off the electric lamps and lights candles for the softer light. We don’t talk all that much. We mostly just sit there, each of us enjoying our own reflections.
Today I received more than thirty letters, forwarded from New York. The only ones from Vietnam were a card from Hue Duong and a letter from Phuong. The others were Christmas cards from American friends. In America, people spend a fair amount of money sending Christmas cards. Each family keeps a list of friends, and then buys hundreds of cards, signs each one, places them all in envelopes, and addresses and stamps each one. If you send cards to only ten friends, you have time to select a special card for each person. You even have time to write ten short notes. But when your list includes hundreds of friends and acquaintances, you have to buy large boxes of identical cards and sign and address them assembly-line style. What is most important, apparently, is not to forget anyone. The list changes over the years—one friend dies and another behaves poorly, so that “diplomatic relations” are severed. And new friends are added to the list. Some Americans assume I must be sad, spending the holidays alone at Princeton. But I’m not sad at all. In fact, I had to refuse several invitations to visit friends’ families so I could cherish this time for myself. It is very peaceful and comfortable here. I think about those people who are homeless and without heat, people who have little reason to celebrate.
Our joys and sorrows, likes and dislikes are colored by our environment so much that often we just let our surroundings dictate our course. We go along with “public” feelings until we no longer even know our own true aspirations. We become a stranger to ourselves, molded entirely by society.