Some years ago — 15 to be exact — a friend gave me a copy of Beatrice Bruteau‘s Radical Optimism: Practical Spirituality in an Uncertain World. I have read this book several times, and when I came across it recently, I felt that the current political climate gave me call to revisit it.
What I’ve realized, however, as I’ve been rereading, is that I need this book for other reasons besides the presidential race. My underlinings and highlighting and marginal notes show how enormously helpful this book has been to me as a teacher and as a writer. Going faster, working harder may be the zeitgeist of American culture, and it’s an attitude that infects higher education, too, but we might think differently.
In that spirit, here are just a few of my favorite Radical Optimism passages:
“The most important thing is this: Don’t represent to yourself what you are doing as difficult. Don’t keep saying how hard it is, don’t remember your failures. Don’t imagine the project as a tremendous task, a huge effort. Be like a weight lifter who deliberately concentrates on the bar and imagines it to be light as a feather.” (32)
“Hearts can be hardened — or ‘tensed up’ — in the same way that muscles can…” (27)
“But the Latin word schola comes from the Greek scholé which means ‘leisure.’ What an interesting discovery! Before you can teach, you must learn, and in order to learn, you must stop your busyness and hold still for a while. You must give yourself leisure to learn.” (9)
“The contemplative is not a dweller in an ivory tower, cut off from the world, oblivious of the suffering of humanity. On the contrary, the contemplative is one who is devoted to seeking the way out of evil and suffering. If we can understand the roots of our distress and the secret of our release, then we can act in the world to alleviate the pain.” (73)
“We get the kind of world we ourselves create…” (134)
“One who feels this way [to be right] is convinced that the only way to be safe is to control everything oneself. This isn’t pride. This is fear. Terrible, rock-bottom, existential fear.” (83)
“You may try by sheer willpower to do something or resist something, but if you cannot convert the imagination to the desired position, you will probably not attain what you have willed.” (45)