Jerry Needleman: Seeking the Questions

Third in a Series on my Mesa Refuge Cohorts

It is a rare privilege to have sustained contact with a deeply reflective person, someone capable of nurturing reflection in others. Today I am remembering this feeling of spaciousness as I hold a book called An Unknown World: Notes on the Meaning of the Earth, given to me by the author at Mesa Refuge. A philosopher and educator, Jacob Needleman (Jerry, he prefers to be called) enriched my time at the residency enormously.

Jacob (Jerry) Needleman

Jacob (Jerry) Needleman

Jerry was there to work on his next book, and he’s written many. In fact, An Unknown World was penned during an earlier Mesa Refuge residency. I enjoyed getting to know the man behind the bibliography, finding him to be engagingly kind, curious, and funny.

As our senior resident, he occupied a place of honor at our dinner table. I think he enjoyed being the only man among four women who doted on him (and sometimes ribbed him as well).

Jerry’s brand of philosophy is practical, compassionate, accessible, incisive—and quite applicable to the times we are living. Instead of right answers, he seeks the right questions, a refreshing tactic.

In one of our many thought-provoking conversations, he invited us to live the question only we ourselves can answer, which is: “Who am I?” He said that when caught up in a destructive habit, it’s helpful to ask, “Who is the person doing that? Who am I?”

“This question is like a companion throughout your life; it becomes an energy,” he said.

I first opened An Unknown World in my writing shed, with water birds swimming the wind over the marshy expanse outside my window. Jerry had read aloud from this book the previous night—and what he read, his normally quiet voice turning sonorous, riveted me. That passage suggested that humans are channels for “higher influences” that need to be expressed on earth. That without our evolution, “Earth herself could not evolve toward her own greater possibility.”

Photo by Heikenwaelder Hugo, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Heikenwaelder Hugo, via Wikimedia Commons

And so I read more, hungrily:

“What we and our Mother Earth need, and what has been needed since Man first appeared, is the energy of awakened and awakening men and women…”

“We can hardly imagine what the Earth will offer us in return for its being seen and understood by the whole being of Man. Earth and Nature need this from us more than anything else. And only from this inner transformation of the mind can right action toward nature and the Earth be pursued without ultimately resulting in ‘the same old story’—that is, division, conflict, and violence.”

After I finished this illuminating book, I asked Jerry which of his works to read next, and he suggested Time and the Soul. I asked Bookmamas to order a copy for me. I’m looking forward to diving in. It’s about allowing time to “breathe” in our lives. (Jerry was right in divining that I need to learn this!)

I feel so blessed to have met Jerry. I probably wouldn’t have encountered his work if not for our time together at Mesa Refuge.

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