Aug 27 2014

Mahmud Shabistari – One Light

Published by under Poetry

One Light
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Andrew Harvey

What are “I” and “You”?
Just lattices
In the niches of a lamp
Through which the One Light radiates.

“I” and “You” are the veil
Between heaven and earth;
Lift this veil and you will see
How all sects and religions are one.

Lift this veil and you will ask –
When “I” and “You” do not exist
What is mosque?
What is synagogue?
What is fire temple?

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut


/ Photo by Pieroc /

“I” and “You” — What is Shabistari talking about here? “I” and “You” is the normal perception of separation. Here “I” stand, and “You” are a separate entity over there. It is the perception of duality in which we see the entire universe as a fragmented existence of separated beings and objects. On the one hand, that perception allows one’s self to feel supremely important in contrast to all else, but it also isolates us and imprisons us in a physicalized notion of reality. Even when we touch, we never quite make contact. The heart ever yearns for real unity.

To show us the way out of this perceptual trap, Shabistari has given us an image to contemplate: a lamp surrounded by latticework. The lamp shines with a single light, but the lattices divide up the radiance into several individual shafts of light. He tells us the world of separation between “I” and “You” is like that — one light divided into many rays.

Think about this image a little more. So long as we look outward, we continue to only see separated beams of light reaching through the air patterning the wall. But the moment it occurs to us to instead follow the light, we turn around and discover the single light that is its source. Finally seeing that single light, we then know that there has only ever been that one light. Does the lattice somehow create many lights of the one light? No. It is still the one light, but expressing itself through the many beams. To prove this to ourselves, all we need do is remove the latticework (“lift this veil”), and then the light shines everywhere, undivided. And the whole time the light itself has never changed its action or nature.

Shabistari makes an interesting shift in the second verse. The separation of “I” and “You” is expanded to be understood in the realm of the world’s religious divisions. And the metaphor of the lamp’s lattice has become a veil (which, of course, covers the face of the Beloved). Even the many sects and religions are one — when we finally look inward toward the light that shines at the heart of each tradition. To one who has lifted the veil and witnessed the underlying Beauty, the distinctions of each tradition and theology no longer separate them. Instead, we can say that the best of each religious tradition adorns the Face differently — but it is the same Face.

Lift this veil…

…and separation is lost, the soul’s isolation ends. And every place becomes a place of worship.

Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 27 2014

hearts and minds

Religion is not to close your mind,
but to open your heart.

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Aug 22 2014

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Secret Language

Published by under Poetry

Secret Language
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

Every part of you has a secret language
your hands and your feet
say what you’ve done
and every need brings in what’s needed
pain bears its cure like a child

— from Secret Language: Rumi A Celebration in Song (Music CD), by Ramananda


/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

The continuing crackdown by police against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri has inspired me to mediate on our ideas of race…

Looking at me, most Americans would call me white, but less and less does that mean something to me. Ethnically, I’m a typical American mutt, with ancestry from numerous countries, not all of them European. I have always had a diverse group of friends, from different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

My closest friend in early childhood was a Nigerian boy, the son of students who had moved to the United States to attend the local university. Though I certainly don’t claim to understand race from his perspective, our friendship alerted me to questions of race and racism early on.

More recently, my friendship with a Pawnee man has led to several fascinating conversations on race and identity. He said something that startled me: There is no such thing as race. There is culture, there is appearance, but there is no race. My initial reaction was that it’s a nice idea to espouse as a countermeasure to the ongoing problems of racism, but race itself is a simple fact, isn’t it? It took a bit of deeper thought on my part before the truth of what he was saying struck me — the actual, biological truth of the statement, not simply the ethical rightness behind it.

Let’s take a few minutes together to go beyond the question of racism and see if we can dismantle the underlying presumption of race itself…

There is no such thing as race. Yes, there are noticeable physical characteristics, and we can loosely identify some characteristics with populations from specific geographical areas, but there is no such thing as a white race, a black race, or any other race we want to name.

A white person may be someone with fair skin and blue eyes and we may be accurate in saying that he has some ancestry that goes back to northern Europe, but it is false to say he is a member of the white race, as distinct from other races.

The fact is that there is no central characteristic of a white race or black race or any race. How can that be, you ask? We could mention several details like hair or eyes, but the most obvious distinction is skin color.

But think about skin color for a moment. That northern European may have very pale skin, but if we travel south through Europe to the Mediterranean, the common skin tone is much darker. Are they still “white”? Are we still talking about the same “race”? (The 19th century was uncertain on this point, by the way.)

Let’s go further south, down the boot of Italy, through Sicily, and hop the Mediterranean to northern Africa. The average skin tone has gotten darker still, but it hasn’t changed as much as some might imagine. In many ways Mediterranean Europeans have more in common with their Mediterranean African neighbors than with their fellow Europeans further north. By crossing the Mediterranean, have we switched races yet? How much change in skin tone constitutes a change in race? What is the definitive border? Can we mark it on the color wheel?

We can keep going south, across the Sahara into central Africa. And though we keep asking the same questions, the answer keeps eluding us. Where is the clear dividing point between the races?

There is no such racial borderline. The only time that border exists is when we don’t look for it. In truth, there is no race, only a spectrum of human appearance. The idea of distinct groups of people that we divide into races is an artificial cultural notion built on assumption and sloppy observation.

A question to take with you into the day: If we are not a world of black people and white people and every other race, but simply people of varied appearance, what does that mean in our day-to-day lives? What does that mean to the tensions in Ferguson?

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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4 responses so far

Aug 22 2014

masks

Even our masks reveal us.

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Aug 20 2014

Mary Oliver – Can You Imagine?

Published by under Poetry

Can You Imagine?
by Mary Oliver

For example, what the trees do
not only in lightning storms
or the watery dark of a summer’s night
or under the white nets of winter
but now, and now, and now – whenever
we’re not looking. Surely you can’t imagine
they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing
to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting
a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly
more shade – surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,
and then only in its own mood, comes
to visit, surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.

— from Long Life: Essays and Other Writings, by Mary Oliver


/ Photo by Marco Arment /

From the towering redwoods and ancient yews, to the forgotten blades of grass beneath our feet, plants are our teachers.

I’ve often contemplated how the plant world embodies such pure life and beauty, without the constant anxiety to be somewhere else. Wherever it has purchase, a plant lives out its purpose with unrestrained green joy.

They find a patch of earth, a place of sun, and settle into the long rhythm of days and years, quietly becoming themselves.

surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind

Perhaps we can imagine it. With the sweep of the wind and the turning of the year, perhaps we can even imagine they dance.

A bush upon a windswept bluff leans into the stream of air and itself becomes the fulfillment of the landscape. A sapling seeking sunlight beneath a canopy of elder trees reaches out for that golden touch and, over time, becomes the pathway of its own seeking.

surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.

Perhaps we can.

Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Mary Oliver

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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2 responses so far

Aug 20 2014

use everything

Use everything:
Joy, fear, success, suffering.
A seeker hasn’t the luxury
to waste life in pursuit
of easy, grand experiences.

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Aug 15 2014

Rabindranath Tagore – On many an idle day

Published by under Poetry

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time. But it is never lost, my lord. Thou hast taken every moment of my life in thine own hands.
      Hidden in the heart of things thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.
      I was tired and sleeping on my idle bed and imagined all work had ceased. In the morning I woke up and found my garden full with wonders of flowers.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Photo by XpopsicleX /

It has been a difficult week for the heart, if you follow the news. There is, of course, continuing desperation and tragedy in Israel/Palestine. The rise of ISIS in Iraq. The images of militarized police responses in Missouri.

And then we hear of the suicide of Robin Williams. Sometimes we can bring ourselves to grieve for a lone individual we recognize, when numbers in the hundreds and thousands numb us.

Some weeks are especially heartbreaking for the empathic soul. Be nurturing with yourself and loved ones this week. And let that inner burning strengthen your steel…

I thought the image of a garden and growth would be healing–

This chapter from Tagore’s Gitanjali, like most of the book, is addressed directly to God as a sort of a prayer. But Tagore is not asking for something. He is acknowledging a surprising truth, he is proclaiming to God the dawning realization that growth is taking place in his “garden” of spiritual awareness always, secretly, quietly, even when he despairs of his own efforts. He “imagined all work had ceased” — he felt his own spiritual work had come to nothing and his deflated spirit temporarily gives up — but he wakes up surprised to find his “garden full with wonders of flowers.” This happens all the time for those striving spiritually, but why?

The metaphor of a garden to represent one’s spiritual awareness is an ancient one used throughout the world, and it is perfect for what is being said here. Think about a garden for a moment. What is it? First, it is a place where things grow, a place of life. It is the opposite of death, which is the state of nonspirituality. The plants of the garden are rooted in the earth, yet they reach upward toward the light of the sun. On an even subtler level, a garden is a place of nourishment and of beauty. What grows in our spiritual gardens feeds us through its “fruitfulness,” and it brings beauty, the awareness of harmony to our consciousness. The flowers of the garden represent the spiritual qualities that have opened within us, that in turn cause us to open to the Divine. The flowers are within us, and we are the flowers. From the yogic point of view, the flowers sometimes represent the chakras that open during spiritual awakening. Also, a garden is a place of contemplation and rest. It is a place where we give ourselves permission to simply be, to settle into the present moment. The garden represents the soul at rest in the living presence of the Divine.

But, returning to this verse from the Gitanjali, why is a garden such a perfect metaphor here? Because every plant of the garden grows with a life of its own. The gardener, the spiritual aspirant, may need to till the ground and plant the seeds, water them regularly, keep them free from encroaching weeds — but for all that work, the gardener does not actually make the seeds grow and flower. The gardener just prepares the environment, but it is the divine spark of life “Hidden in the heart of all things” that nourishes “seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.”

Tagore is surprised to realize that his only job is to prepare the garden bed and keep it ready, but the growth of the seeds is effortless, for the seeds are alive with the vitality of God. Even when he can conceive of no further effort, the seeds still grow. The seeds WANT to grow. And they will grow. It is their nature to grow once given the right environment. All we have to do is prepare ourselves, make ourselves ready. The spiritual growth will happen of its own accord. Then one morning we wake up surrounded by “wonders of flowers!”

Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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4 responses so far

Aug 15 2014

pathway

The pathway in life
runs along the seam
between the heart and the world.

No responses yet

Aug 08 2014

William Blake – The Divine Image

Published by under Poetry

The Divine Image
by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is God, our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity and Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

— from Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Patrick Laude / Edited by Barry McDonald


/ Photo by poivre /

This poem is from Blake’s Songs of Innocence, a collection of poems addressed to children. It has an intentional sing-song quality, easy to remember.

If you’re like I am, you probably cringe at that line in the final stanza referring to “heathen, Turk or Jew.” The phrase sounds disparaging taken out of context. But reread what Blake is actually saying: He is using the common prejudice of the day, that white European Christians are superior to all others, and he turns it on its head. He declares that “Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell / There God is dwelling too.”

In other words, Blake is offering a truly universal vision of God that transcends religious, racial, and cultural boundaries. God isn’t limited to specific dogmas. God doesn’t favor one skin color or one national flag. God dwells where the human heart in fruition has made a home for “Love, Mercy, Pity, and Peace.”

Where there is love, where there is mercy and compassion and empathy, where there is deep peace — that is where God is found among people, regardless of who those people are or by what name they call God.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

If more poems like this were read, think how different the world would be.

William Blake, William Blake poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Blake

England (1757 – 1827) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian

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4 responses so far

Aug 08 2014

pure ache

All that loss, hurt and hope –
gather them up
into a great pure ache
until the Beloved has no choice but to kiss
your naked heart.

No responses yet

Aug 06 2014

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – This moment

Published by under Poetry

This moment
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

This moment
This LOVE
comes to rest in me,
many beings in one being
In one wheat-grain
a thousand sheaf stacks.

Inside the needle’s eye
a turning night of stars.
This moment –
This LOVE.

— from The Illuminated Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Photo by Ha-Wee /

Leave it to a poet like Rumi to give us a phrase like–

Inside the needle’s eye
a turning night of stars.
This moment –
This LOVE.

The beauty of the image and words is so transporting that we can miss the profound esoteric truth being revealed here:

The human spirit, in its constant quest and hunger, looks for ever larger, greater experiences that expand our reach until we can encompass and hold everything. Even in the spiritual journey we want to be so big we don’t have to deal with the mundane moment. And this is the hardest part — letting go of that impulse.

You see, here’s the secret Rumi whispers to us in these lines… Don’t get bigger; get smaller. Become so small that you can finally rest in the tiniest of spaces — “this moment.” Do that, come to rest here, right here, fully, and this moment, which you feared would be so small you’d suffocate (“inside the needle’s eye”), surprises you by becoming a window to the Infinite (“a turning night of stars”).

Do that, and your heart unfolds in ways you hadn’t known possible, flooding you with an all-encompassing awareness of bliss and love.

It is not a journey of years, it is a journey of one moment–

This moment –
This LOVE.

(PS – The book this poem is taken from — The Illustrated Rumi — comes with some stunning artwork, digital collages you can spend a hours gazing at… along with the wonderful poetry, of course!)

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Aug 06 2014

on course

As long as you have compassion
you can’t be far off course.

No responses yet

Aug 01 2014

Dariya – Who can describe the Source of the universe

Published by under Poetry

Who can describe the Source of the universe
by Dariya

English version by K. N. Upadhyaya

Who can describe the Source of the universe,
Containing this world, the underworld and clusters
      of galaxies manifested in higher regions?
The One whose luster, like a luminous gem,
      illumines the universe,
Which poet can comprehend and follow
      the pattern of His manifestations?

It is the Merciful Lord
      who bestowed His grace on me,
And I could see the glory
      of His entire manifestations.
The play of love of the Limitless Primal Being,
      I did see in entirety.
This is an inaccessible and unfathomable Divine Wonder,
How can any poet give its description?

— from Dariya Sahib: Saint of Bihar, Translated by K. N. Upadhyaya


/ Photo by Topo3486 /

Who can describe the Source of the universe…?

This is a question often raised by sacred poets. Even those overcome by the most profound vision of the Divine find the art of words failing them.

This verse is the mystic’s dilemma: The Grand Vision can be witnessed, participated in, but the mind can’t comprehend it or define it in a way that can be truly communicated.

Which poet can comprehend and follow
      the pattern of His manifestations?

The reason for this is that the reasoning mind understands reality by dissecting it. The intellect slices reality into manageable pieces that it can comprehend and manipulate. But the Divine Presence witnessed by mystics in deep communion is the Wholeness of reality.

That Totality permeates everything, has no boundaries. The physical eyes do not see it; it is not a play of light and dark, but an eternal all-pervading radiance or presence.

The One whose luster, like a luminous gem,
      illumines the universe…

It is formless because form is defined by boundaries. How then can the poor intellect (or the poor poet) hope to describe that which transcends every definition?

This is an inaccessible and unfathomable Divine Wonder,
How can any poet give its description?

This doesn’t mean the intellect can’t try, by resorting to metaphor, but the communication of this truth ultimately comes not through words but through participation.

Dariya, Dariya poetry, Sikh poetry Dariya

India (1634 – 1780) Timeline
Sikh
Yoga / Hindu

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Aug 01 2014

the road

Decide on a goal.
Then make the road
to that goal
your daily habit.

No responses yet

Jul 30 2014

Marina Tsvetaeva – I know the truth

Published by under Poetry

I know the truth
by Marina Tsvetaeva

English version by Elaine Feinstein

I know the truth — give up all other truths!
No need for people anywhere on earth to struggle.
Look — it is evening, look, it is nearly night:
what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals?

The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew,
the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.
And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we
who never let each other sleep above it.

— from Tsvetayeva: Selected Poems, by Marina Tsvetaeva / Translated by Elaine Feinstein


/ Photo by KellyB. /

I return to this poem regularly, and it brings me to a halt each time. There is such a mature, weary compassion in these lines.

The question is not whether we will live or die. We all live (though we may not always feel as if we do). And we all die (though we may discover that death is not what we imagined).

The real question is, while we move and act upon the earth, do we ease the suffering of others or add to it? Will we let each other rest above the earth, or only beneath it?

Life and death are a given. It is what we do with them that matters.

The whole while the earth says, “Is not every beautiful thing yours already?” And the night sky, for all its immense movement, is completely at peace. So what has humanity lost sight of?

May our eyes see, though our hearts break.
May our hearts break, that they may open.
May our hearts bleed, that we know life flows through them.

Marina Tsvetaeva, Marina Tsvetaeva poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Marina Tsvetaeva

Russia (1892 – 1941) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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4 responses so far

Jul 30 2014

acceptance

How can you settle into yourself
without
self-acceptance?

No responses yet

Jul 23 2014

Theodore Roethke – In a Dark Time

Published by under Poetry

In a Dark Time
by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood –
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks — is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is –
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

— from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, by Theodore Roethke


/ Photo by mill56 /

This is one of those poems to keep close in difficult times.

In a dark time, the eye begins to see

The struggle against despair, disorientation, darkness. The solitary individual lost in a lost world. We have all been there at some point in our lives. Deep seekers have a particular tendency to travel through those shadowed spaces.

I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.

That despair is often a deep seated sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the human world presented to us. It can feel uncaring, limited, violent, broken, and incomplete. In other words, it is a place that does not accept the individual as he or she is. To operate in the human world, we are forced into games of pretense and self-disguise. It is a feeling of homelessness and isolation.

What does one do when the soul is at odds with circumstance? It creates a terrible crisis. As social creatures, we align with the group mind, often without awareness or consent. The more naturally we do this, the better we fit into society and exist in the human world. But what about the eccentrics and visionaries, those who resist that psychic pull in order to answer the soul’s need to be itself and see beyond social artifice?

The edge is what I have.

They tend to dwell at the edges. That is where both danger and possibility are found. There we gain the possibility of seeing clearly for the first time, witnessing reality as a complete and self-fulfilled individual.

But the danger is very real, as well. No longer relying on socially constructed reality as our boundary we also lose our safe landmarks. The psyche becomes disoriented and fragile.

To navigate this necessary dark night of the soul, the seeker and the artist must cultivate a highly refined inner sense of balance and discipline. This is an important reason for developing a vigorous spiritual practice. Without the necessary inner solidity, the tendency is to rely on dangerous crutches, like excessive drinking and drug use — a terrible problem for so many creative non-conformists.

Think of it this way: The normal consensus reality is like the rigid shell of an egg. It does an excellent job of safely containing the unformed individual and protecting it from exposure to the unknown outside reality. But, if the individual remains within that shell forever, he never experiences the fullness of life. Through spiritual practice, one awakens the fire of life and takes on inner solidity and form. Then, when the shell has become too confining, you can break free into the open air without danger of fragmentation, ready to encounter the new world.

…Those dark periods we experience, they do actually serve a purpose, awakening clarity of vision and a compassionate heart. When we feel most vulnerable and lost, we are often going through our greatest growth and transformation, readying for the blaze of light.

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Learn to work deeply amidst the darkness; discover what is really you slowly emerging from the shadows, for that is your stable landmark when all else shifts about.

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

Theodore Roethke, Theodore Roethke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Theodore Roethke

US (1908 – 1963) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Theodore Roethke

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