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October 2006
Rev. Celeste Shakti Hill

Whenever I start this column, I see what wants to be expressed. There are so many wonderful good deeds happening throughout the world that it can be overwhelming to choose which ones to highlight. This first story of gratitude popped up on my screen. I have found gratitude to be a wonderful practice. It reminds me that we are all in this adventure called Life together.
It humbles me to reflect on all the wonderful things in my life. I was once given a blank journal from a friend during a very difficult time in my life. I was not sure what to make of this gift, until she explained, “This is a Gratitude Journal. Each night write down what you are grateful for from the day.” At first I wrote an item or two each night. But soon I was filling page after page. Gratitude is magic that way. Once we adjust our focus, we see how blessed we really are, and the beauty surrounding us in each moment. It brings us into the present moment, where perhaps we might even write an ‘Ode’ to something simple, and profound.
Enjoy these uplifting stories and let me know if you have any of your own to share:

A Mountain Climber's Gratitude
"Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give." -- Edwin Arlington Robinson
In 1993, Greg Mortenson became very ill when climbing Mt. K2, the world's second tallest mountain, in the Himalayas. As he recovered for seven weeks in the small Pakistani village of Korphe, he was so touched by the kindness he received that he vowed to return to build their first school. True to his word, he founded the Central Asia Institute, which has built 55 schools across rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. And what was his first source of funding? A $100 check from Tom Brokaw!
"Three Cups of Tea is one of the most remarkable adventure stories of our time. Greg Mortenson's dangerous and difficult quest to build schools in the wildest parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not only a thrilling read, it's proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world."-Tom Brokaw
CAI Mission: To promote and provide community-based education and literacy programs, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Central Asia.
Places: Remote Underserved Mountain Communities
Central Asia Institute community projects are in remote mountain villages of northern Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and the steppes of Mongolia. The terrain varies from the highest consolidation of high peaks in the world to miles of high desert plateau. Very few organizations serve the remote areas where we work.
People: Ancient Silk Road Cultures and Customs
The people and cultures of Central Asia are as varied and diverse as the landscape, blending to create a tapestry of customs, languages and cultures that have flourished for thousands of years. The shared commonality between these proud people is their Islamic faith, which accents strong family unity and community spirit.
Self-Sustainability: The Key to Long-Term Success We believe in the parable: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." Over the last decade, we have developed innovative techniques that encourage people to take responsibility for their own well-being and vitality.
Collaborative Efforts: Through Community Partnerships
Each one of Central Asia Institute's projects is locally initiated and involves community participation. A committee of elders guides each selected project. Before a project starts, the community matches project funds with equal amounts of local resources and labor. This commitment ensures a project’s viability and long term success.
To find out more about the Central Asia Institute - or to purchase the book of this inspiring adventure, Three Cups of Tea -

Nobel Laureate's Odes To Common Things
I have always thought it would be a blessing if each person could be blind and deaf for a few days during his early adult life. Darkness would make him appreciate sight; silence would teach him the joys of sound. -- Helen Keller
Pablo Neruda: the Nobel Prize-winning poet who turned appreciation of sight and sound into a fine art with his "Odes to Common Things". Everything was fair game to this poet: he wrote hauntingly beautiful odes to his socks, to a lemon, to a cat, to ironing, to bees, bicycles, a bed and even the dictionary! In his poems everyday objects become an excuse to explore the beauty and wonder we so often overlook in our lives.
In his poem "Ode to the Atom," he wrote (translated from the Spanish): "Infinitesimal / star, / you seemed / forever / buried / in metal, hidden, / your diabolic / fire. / One day / someone knocked / at your tiny / door: / it was man . . ."
And this atom, "terrible fruit / of electric beauty," seems a striking cousin to Neruda's "Ode to the Artichoke" about a tender-hearted artichoke dressed as a warrior offering "the peaceful flesh of its green heart."
In an essay titled "Toward an Impure Poetry," he wrote, "It is good, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest." His list includes wheels that have crossed long dusty distances, sacks from coal bins, baskets, barrels, and the handles found in carpenters' tool chests. Anything that could be read to see the contact between people and the earth would be "a text for all troubled lyricists."
Although the poet died witnessing the start of years of political oppression in Chile, his work and spirit transcend death and politics. In 1971 he gave a stirring account of his thoughts and work when he accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature.
"I believe that poetry is an action, ephemeral or solemn, in which there enter as equal partners solitude and solidarity, emotion and action, the nearness to oneself, the nearness to mankind and to the secret manifestations of nature . . . all this is sustained -- man and his shadow, man and his conduct, man and his poetry -- by an ever-wider sense of community, by an effort which will forever bring together the reality and the dreams in us."
Be The Change:
Imagine for a few moments, living in the temporary silent darkness that Helen Keller wished each of us to experience. Then open your eyes and ears afresh and look around. What would you write an Ode to in this moment?
Ode to Salt
    In the salt mines
    I saw the salt
    in this shaker.
    I know you won't believe me,
    but there
    it sings,
    the salt sings, the skin
    of the salt mines
    with a mouth choking
    on dirt.
    when I heard
    the voice
    of salt,
    I trembled
    in the empty
    Near Antofagasta
    the whole
    salted plain
    shouts out
    in its
    a pitiful
    Then in its caverns
    jewels of rock salt, a mountain
    of light buried under earth,
    transparent cathedral,
    crystal of the sea, oblivion
    of the waves.
    And now on each table
    of the world
    your agile
    a vital luster
    our food.
    of the ancient
    stores in the holds
    of ships, you were
    the explorer
    of the seas,
    in the secret, half-open
    trails of foam.
    Dust of water, the tongue
    receives through you a kiss
    from the marine night:
    taste melds
    your oceanity
    into each rich morsel
    and thus the least
    of the saltshaker
    teaches us
    not merely domestic purity
    but also the essential flavor of the infinite.
By Pablo Neruda
Translated from the Spanish by Philip Levine


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