Kevin Kelly recently wrote about Anne Herbert, a writer he knew in the early ’80’s who edited CoEvolution Quarterly, the companion magazine to Whole Earth Catalog. She is most known for coining the phrase, “Practice random
acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.”
Kelly hadn’t been in touch with her in all this time, but remembered her writing:
“…it was telegraphic, lyrical, abbreviated, evocative, extremely personal and mystical. She wrote in short bursts. Like proverbs from a secret bible…It was not like any writing I had encountered…
…She was decades ahead of her time…”
Kelly thought Herbert had disappeared, only to discover that she still writes – in her own blog, ‘Peace and Love and Noticing the Details’.
Everything he says about Herbert’s writing is true. It is often like haiku (without the constraints): tiny meditations that caste a unique light on everyday things. Here are some:
A different kind of solution is needed. To find it, I heal the part of the problem that is inside me.
Sometimes the people who invent things and the people who find out what things are for are different people.
Someone who has been deeply wounded must be deeply healed.
I twist myself into a pretzel to believe the story, the official story of some group I like, to stay inside a “we” I want. Not much nutritional value.
I might have to cry for a hundred thousand years. Or maybe an accurate laugh would do some of the same work.
All that room inside a minute, all those seconds, hundredths of a second. All those nanoseconds, and here comes another minute, moving and spacious.
If I lightly touch and silently thank several trees between where I live and public transportation, it’s a better day.
The texture of the tree bark against my skin implies there are many ways to be alive.
What is the smallest event you’ve noticed today?
Flawedness is the only option. I disagree, but there it is. I don’t know how to deal with flawedness in myself or others. Now, that’s a flaw.
Here is one of Herbert’s longer writings from a 1995 Whole Earth Review. It’s called “Handy Tips on How to Behave at the Death of the World”.
17 replies on “anne herbert’s wise + teeny meditations”
I love these. They remind me of the Tibetan Buddhist ‘Lojong’ mind training slogans
for cultivating loving-kindness. They emphasize meeting the ordinary situations of
life with intelligence and compassion under all circumstances. For instance, “Don’t be swayed by external circumstances”, “Be grateful to everyone” and “Always maintain only a joyful mind”.
The phrase that Anne Hebert wrote on her napkin in a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 is “Practise random kindness and senseless acts of beauty”. Everyone gets it wrong. “Random acts of kindness” is an oxymoron. An act is a deliberate undertaking, so how can it be random? “Random kindness” is a spontaneous generous response to a situation.
Jacqui, Thank you so much for this clarification. It makes sense. We’ve made the correction.
How do you know the story? Is there anything you can tell us about this mysterious and amazing woman?
I have been following Anne Herbert’s blog, but am concerned that no new posts have been made since June 2012. does anyone know how to let her know she is missed?
Wow. You’re right. That’s alarming. I’ve and others have tried to find/contact her in the past and had no luck. She seems to like to be off the grid. I do hope she’s okay. She’s a true light.
the last comment here is from november of 2012 and a little sad to read/hear of…. I was about to write here to ask if someone could help me contact Anne Herbert for a little question I had. But now… in light of the last comment, perhaps a little fruitless to ask. So if it’s ok, I would like to ask my question here and perhaps someone else could help me anyway…..
So, this famous quote ( “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.”) of hers is well known. But the one I remember and can ALMOST quote, but not quite and that’s why I’m asking,—- goes something along the lines of—
“Imagine that the stars only shone for one night every 100 years,…. so you KNOW where everyone is going to be that night….. libraries are that kind of holy to me.”
Well that was the gist of it but I’ve said it clumsily and wanted to know what that original one was that I read. It was from back in the times of CQ or maybe even before. Does anyone else remember this? When I try to google this area/subject, I get a whole lot of Asimovs Nightfall but nothing about this quote of Ms. Herberts……
Anne and I coauthored the book “Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty” with illustrations by Mayumi Oda. It is Anne’s birthday may 29, and we want to find her. Hello Anne, happy birthday. We have good news. Mayumi has found a very fine Japanese poet , translating our book into Japanese. Across the miles and years. We would like to dedicate this work to the Fukushima survivors and climate refugees in many places. We want to connect with you about this and many things. Reaching across the miles and years,hoping to find you, and to link with others about this work. Sending love from my heart and the tribe at earth house center and the breakthrough communities project in Oakland. Word is good. [email protected]
I wrote a response but do not see it listed, perhaps there is a time lag or review process before comments are made official. On the other hand, my computer went out of battery as I pressed send. Please let me know if I need to re-send. [email protected] 510 652 2425. I wanted to respond to the folks who mentioned Anne Herbert’s work (Anne and I co-authored the book Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty- illustrated by Mayumi Oda) Also, gratitude for your care and the beauty of your blog.
Second try – It is so heartening to link with others who have read and loved Anne’s work. Would love to make direct connection with you. Also, I miss Anne, May 29 is her birthday and I am writing in hope of finding her, and sharing good news in person! Mayumi Oda has found a treasured poet in Japan who has been translating Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty (our co-authored book) into Japanese, and we are considering dedicating this as part of a community resilience project to the Fukushima survivors and refugees. Do you like and bless this idea? Happy Birthday Anne – across the miles and years. Word can be good – Anne, you taught us. Also, you can reach us by phone 510 6522425, email [email protected]. From the center of my heart to yours, Paloma
PS Immense Gratitude to anyone who can help me to connect directly with Anne in person. Practice Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty: “we’re all making the soup we’re all eating, we’re all weaving the cloth we are all wearing…. We are all in the Circle together. “
Dear moderator, please help make a correction to my message 5/31. The phrase “this work ” needs to substitute for the typo “his work”. Hmmm, i am referring to “our work” the work of two women, anne and myself, and also acknowledging (with delight and gratitude) that this spark has been joined by so many over the years. “Going viral” sounds like a disease and does not convey the amazement of creating a “we space” phenemenon that two women working in collaboration did not imagine. Some may not know the origins of random kindness and senseless acts of beauty and the creative process and find it interesting. Anne herbert and I were responding to our despair at accelerating systemic violence, specifically domestic Rodney king incident of racial violence and police brutality and the international drum beat to war in the Persian gulf that was engulfing the nighttime news. We wanted to stop the wars… To create a spell that would shatter the trance . So we took the phrase “random violence and senseless acts of cruelty” and created a “reversal”(to use feminist philosopher mary daly’s strategy). It was not too tough to find kindness for violence. Not wimpy kindness but tough Dalai Lama never give up kindness.” Beauty” for “cruelty ” was the radical innovation. Profound fun to recall this her-story over 20 years ago. And an expression of life improvisation between two activists. Thanks again for this blog space .
The typo has been corrected. I am thrilled to hear the story of how Random Acts of Kindness came into the world and will publish it as a post. Perhaps it will help to find out where the brilliant Anne Herbert has gone. We miss her too. Thank you so much for your comments.
I just noticed today Ann’s blog stopped abruptly in 2012. I did some googling and ended up here. I have no idea where she is either.
She was my favorite writer for the CoEvolution Quarterly. I miss her writing and wish her well.
Yes, I keep hoping to find her, and know if she is okay. She is an inspired writer.
Paul Metsä: that quote you are searching for is on a T-shirt which I purchased from Co-Evolution quarterly back in the last century.for once I am glad to have an archival memory and to be a pack rat. I know right where that shirt is. I will transcribe it as soon as I get home, but first, I have a big contradance to attend! Wild Asparagus is coming to energize the Portland Country Dance Community at the Norse hall in an hour and a half.
just now, I was searching for Anne’s library quote because I wanted to encourage the students at Reed College who came to their library yesterday (13 November 2016) to discover hateful graffiti in the bathrooms of their library. I fear for rational and sensible discourse in this country.
Dear Paul Metsä, here is Anne Herbert’s statement on libraries, transcribed from my T-shirt:purchased through the store of Co-Evolution Quarterly, probably 38 years ago. since then, I married, had two sons who are now robust young men (both of them scholar/scientists, dancers and musicians), and I went from being an active rower (bow in an eight…and gonzo skier keeping up with my more gonzo husband…) so, still, the Medium Shirt this is printed on is in perfect shape because it hasn’t fit for years!!
Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries. What’s happening to libraries lately is like they’re shooting stars out of the sky. Libraries are such unnatural, incandescent miracles and it’s so easy to take little chunks out of them, like nighttime hours when people stuck doing something they don’t much like the rest of the day can spend a few hours checking out the rest of the universe. Emerson said that if the stars only shone once a century everyone would be out there in awe that whole night.
Libraries to me are honest to God about that weird, but they’re there all the time too, so chipping away at them doesn’t seem much like amputating a unicorn but they are a wondrous beast.
Thanks SO much for finding this quote of Anne Herbert’s. She is a wonder and I wish I knew where she was. You have reminded me that it’s time to post some of her astonishing writings, that still resonate around the world, especially ‘Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty‘.
Belatedly found this page (thanks, Google). If you want to know what happened to Anne Herbert, you want to read “Anne Herbert: An Introduction” in the Internet Archive’s Whole Earth Collection. Don’t expect to contact her now. She died of cancer several years ago.