Thoughts from Geneva

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by Steve Young, 7/12/08 • I have just been in a marvelous setting for getting your heart and mind around what is important – an old hotel in the Swiss Alps overlooking Lake Laman or as some call it, Lake Geneva.

Before either John McCain or Barack Obama sets to work as our next President in early November, he should go to this place in Caux, Switzerland, or some place very like it.

In real estate the agents say that what counts is “location, location, location.” Sometimes that may be true for our understandings of the world as well. Our location can frame the path of our reflections. Consider walking along an ocean beach or sitting in a mountain meadow. For many of us, that context can lead to deeper, more inwardly centered, perceptions or, in a similarly restorative way, to looser flows of mental associations that lead us to more fundamental and lasting impressions of what is.

Mountain House in Caux, Switzerland, is such an influencing location. I was just there with some colleagues in a retreat for scholars on last Tuesday and Wednesday. They left on Wednesday night or early Thursday morning and I stayed on for a day before going to Warsaw. Thursday was a beautiful day – blue skies, a few touches of clean white clouds, warm sun- but not hot, breezes. And the view from the patio at Mountain House was magnificent; not so spectacular that you forgot yourself, but great (“magnus”) in vistas of high Alpine mountains, towns along the lake shore, the blue of the lake, and in clarity of light and perception.

And the sounds were of birds and the breezes in the leaves.

The hustle and bustle of humanity, the nitty-gritty, the details that provide cover and sustenance for the devils in our lives, were far away from consciousness. One felt a kind of open-ended, natural superiority in life. You could breathe in encouragement and breathe out doubts and anxieties, just as masters of meditation advise for our better health and well-being.

The view from Mountain House on such a day provides scope for our proper ambitions, making us once again masters of our fates and captains of our souls in a world that is conspiring to reduce us to trivia.

The view took me back to Robert Frost’s poem “Birches” which ends thusly:

Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree~
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Our presidents could do worse than be swingers of birches; the world would be safer if they were and we would be happier as citizens of a Republic that would be balanced in its ambitions and respectful in its dreams of glory and greatness.