Nov 13 2013

My Introduction to Sacred Poetry

Published by at 10:23 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry Chaikhana Misc.

Ivan M. Granger

I am often asked how I came to the world of sacred poetry. What set me on this path? Was there a particular poet who opened the doorway or a line that hooked me? What was my inspiration for starting the Poetry Chaikhana?

My father, Steven Granger, was a poet, so I heard poetry from a young age. Like many young people, I wrote a bit of poetry as I grew up, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Most of the poetry I was exposed to was, well, boring to me. I thought of poetry as belonging my father’s world. To me it was mostly an intellectual game of words.

In the year 2000, I moved with my wife Michele to Maui. A friend from the mainland sent me a series of talks by the poet David Whyte on cassette tapes. I went for long drives along Maui’s country roads, through the tall sugar cane fields, among the rows of spiky pineapple plants, listening to David Whyte’s molasses accent, as he told stories and recited poetry by poets I hadn’t heard of before: Antonio Machado, Anna Akhmatova.

Maui’s natural beauty and quiet rhythms of land and sea and sky inspired me to go deeper into my spiritual practices. I was meditating deeply, praying, fasting, going for long walks in the eucalyptus forests that grew along the slopes of Haleakala Volcano. It was idyllic, yet I was going through a personal crisis.

/ Photo by alierturk /

I had just broken with a spiritual group I had been practicing with for nearly ten years. So, while I was engaged in intensive spiritual practice, it had lost its context. Should I still be following the same form of prayer, the same focus in meditation? I was flailing about.

Christmas came, and the sense of crisis deepened. The holidays just seemed to emphasize my disorientation. I was in my early 30s by that point and had no career to speak of. I was just doing work to get by. I was largely cut off from friends and family, cut off even from the American mainland. My one driving goal was spiritual growth. That was my only identity. And it was in disarray.

I came to a profound personal confrontation. For the first time I really saw myself. And that was a terrifying thing. I dropped all pretense and projection, all the fantasies of who I thought I was or who I might become. I just looked at myself plainly, as I was. What I saw wasn’t terribly impressive. I felt I was a mostly good-hearted person, but largely ineffectual. I had the ironic recognition that I was basically a likable flake. What truly surprised me, though, was the thought that followed, which was that it was okay.

New Years came and went, while I hovered in that limbo state.

The combination began to ferment in my mind – the poetry and the personal crisis.

In early January it all converged and then – POW! – I was catapaulted into an ecstatic stillness. Everything about me and my world came to a complete stop. The person I thought of as “Ivan” seemed to disappear. It was as if some undefined, wide-open awareness was quietly witnessing the world through my eyes. My heart bloomed and was flooded with love. An indescribable joy bubbled up inside me. The entire world was an intangible outline sketched upon a golden-white radiance, and I was a gossamer thin ghost happily disappearing in that light.

I spent days hardly speaking, a crooked grin plastered across my face.

I didn’t want to unsettle my wife, so I made a game of it. I pretended to be “Ivan.” I resumed my work schedule. I walked the dogs. I cleaned the house. But the world still shone.

I started to fill pages in my journal, describing what I was witnessing. How the world was changed, how I was changed. But I found that what really wanted to come out was – poetry!

As I wrote more poetry, I found a certain metaphoric language naturally emerging in what I was writing: water and honey and wine, sleep and death and new life, moon and sun and light…

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

It was then that I came across books of sacred poetry, by mystics like St. John of the Cross, Rumi, Hafez, Abu-Said Abil-Kheir, and Ramprasad. Their words sent thrills through my body. They whispered to me as intimate companions. And I noticed also that they spoke a similar language of wine and moonlight. They told me how many before me had walked the same path in awe.

John of the Cross, John of the Cross poetry, Christian poetry John of the Cross

I became hungry for more. I started rummaging through used bookstores for more poetry collections. I scanned anthologies for new names and voices. Sufi poets, Hindu poets, Buddhist poets, Christian poets.

I realized there was a rich world heritage of sacred poetry, hundreds of poets, thousands of poets, singing songs of the divine – and I had heard of almost none of them before. Most commentaries accompanying their poetry were dry, academic literary analysis, which has its value, but, in my opinion, lacks deep insight. It was frustrating to find poetry of such profound wisdom and ecstatic joy, and have it thought to be merely beautiful.

I spent about a year building a database that would allow me to gather a wide selection of sacred poetry, organize it, link it together by theme and tradition and century, and be able to generate a website I could maintain by myself in my spare time. In 2004, my wife and I returned to the mainland, moving to Colorado, and soon after I officially launched the Poetry Chaikhana as a place for people to discover new poets, sample different translations, explore the inner meanings of esoteric poetry without a lot of arcane jargon – and, hopefully, come to recognize what mystics the world over affirm, that the heart of religion and spirit is one, regardless of differences in tradition and culture.

So, please, explore the Poetry Chaikhana. Perhaps these sacred poets will whisper in your ear too.

40 responses so far

40 Responses to “My Introduction to Sacred Poetry”

  1. Kathryn Santanaon 13 Nov 2013 at 10:43 am

    Thank you.
    Still longing for peace, always love.

  2. Dr. Gon 13 Nov 2013 at 11:58 am

    Thanks for sharing your journey, Ivan. Not too dissimilar from mine, as I’m sure of others who have become fans of your poetry ministry.

    Many thanks.

  3. Kathleenon 13 Nov 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Ivan, thank you for sharing your story. Like your poetry, it has a clear tone and a deep resonance. And thanks for Poetry Chaikhana. It’s been a blessing.

  4. Carleneon 13 Nov 2013 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you Ivan for sharing your awakening to who you truly are! As it happens, I’m at non-duality retreat and this morning in a guided meditation by Rupert Spira I was led by the hand step by step and dropped into my true nature! I wept but also wanted to dance and shout! Just a little glimpse, but blown away by it!! Thanks again and thank you for Poetry Chaikhana!

  5. Copper Graceon 13 Nov 2013 at 1:30 pm

    “Love lit a fire in my chest, and anything that wasn’t love left: intellectual subtlety, philosophy books, school. All I want now to do or hear is poetry.” – Rumi version by Barks

  6. Shailaon 13 Nov 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Namaste Ivan, It takes tremendous courage to share your story and hats off to you for that! Also, it is wonderful that you have made peace with the spiritual path that you were on before as you did not even mention what or who it involved let alone say anything negative about it. That speaks volumes about your personal inner growth.

    At the end of the day, we are all products of Mother nature and your affinity to nature highly resonates. We are made-up of the same elements that are in nature and our bodies will eventually go back to their elemental state when our soul/spirit leaves our body.

    The human ego is extremely fragile more so than Mikasa glass. We must learn to not only handle our own egos with utmost care but those of others as well. You went through a process of letting that ego run wild and free to ultimately face itself!

    As you have discovered through your introspection and depth of study of poetry, the ego is not who is permanent within us, it lives as long as the body lives. The burning question then becomes, Who Am I? Most people seek out a spiritual guide to find the answer to that question!

    Your choice of poetry and analysis is wonderful and appreciated. In gratitude to you for sharing your experiences and talents with us.

    Our presence and vibration on this earth is what makes us valuable or not on this earth to ourselves and to others. In gratitude for your sweet, gentle, kind-hearted presence on this earth!

    May you continue to discover the treasures that reside with you!

    In peace,


  7. Carolisaon 13 Nov 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you so much Ivan for sharing this!!!

    (do you think we get our verb Ruminate fom Rumi? 🙂

  8. Charlotte Veston 13 Nov 2013 at 2:10 pm

    You are such an inspiration. You and the poetry remind me to surrender and appreciate. It has kept me alive and awake during the past 5 very difficult years and I find myself sending poems to others in my network as well. Thank you thank you for your honesty and persistence.

  9. Shannon Sullivanon 13 Nov 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us Ivan. I really appreciate hearing your process and your story. It definitely comes through in your website, and I appreciate your dedication.

  10. Sagewalkeron 13 Nov 2013 at 2:26 pm

    If you don’t know the work yet of Kim Rosen – I’d be shocked if you don’t, you need to. Her book, Saved by a Poem and the work she does internationally is extraordinary. She in fact gives an annual workshop in Hawaii!

  11. Alison Quinon 13 Nov 2013 at 2:51 pm

    I have such heartfelt gratitude for receiving these poems from day to day. They always make me pause and notice the beauty of holiness in everything.
    Thank you for your work and for sharing your journey.

  12. Peter Mountainon 13 Nov 2013 at 2:55 pm

    I had virtually the same experience in September of 2007. It started with a very unflattering job review which pretty well described me as a monster. And honestly, I had to agree with it. It was true. And I was devastated. I cried. ~sigh

    Also, at that time, after almost 18 years of following a Christian spiritual path, I quit. I “came out” to my friends and family as an atheist. The effect was liberating. I felt as if after living my whole life indoors I suddenly walked outside. There was no longer any walls, no floor and no ceiling. This experience was also a little frightening. However, it didn’t last very long.

    One night during the final week of September I had a vision I saw my own soul and … I fell in love with him. It was like looking in a peculiar mirror. He was so beautiful and he was ME! During the next two weeks I had absolutely no reason to speak about anything. The cosmos was at peace and perfectly in place and I would just sit and smile and breath. My wife was worried and so I told her what had happened and added that I feel like I have fallen deeply in love. “With who?” she asked. “With myself”.

    It took me a year and a half to put together any context to this experience.
    I felt like a fool telling people, hoping they could point me in a direction. But nobody I spoke to had the slightest idea what I was talking about. It wasn’t until I discovered the poetry of Rumi that it all became clear. I had met “the friend” or “the beloved”. I had become the lover.

  13. Rama Devion 13 Nov 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Inspiring. Thanks for sharing, “Ivan”! Namaste

  14. Jacquion 13 Nov 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Thank you. Blessings.

  15. Susanon 13 Nov 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Dear Ivan,
    Thank you for sharing this ‘universal’ story. Bonded and grateful, Sue.

  16. Barb Lucason 13 Nov 2013 at 5:01 pm

    Ivan, I am so touched by your sharing. this is a keeper and a page I will share with others. Thank you for the gift of your beautiful Godself to us.

    Glory be to you, Ivan
    How great is your glory
    For under your garments
    There is God
    Nothing but

    Much love and admiration,

  17. Pamon 13 Nov 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Dear Ivan,

    It seemed as if this post was aimed directly at me, timely and poignant. I celebrate your commitment and vulnerability. The magical words for me, from you, “it [I] was okay.”

    Bowing with gratitude
    for the okay-ness of myself today,


  18. stewarton 13 Nov 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Like a moth to a flame we loose ourselves in the Oneness; being forever changed in the fire of Love. Each traveler’s journey is different yet the same . . .

  19. Bonnieon 13 Nov 2013 at 7:05 pm


    Thank you for coming home to you. The world I live in is brighter because of this.

    Namaste’ Soul Brother,


  20. viv macadamon 13 Nov 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Thankyou so much for your sincere and moving story. I have adored poetry all my life and written a whole lot of poems when I was in love in my late 20s!!I have reached the stage you were at in your 30s, after years of meditating i find I am noone special and sort of stuck awaiting the EXPERIENCE of the Real Self or the Divine.I envy you….will try to send a monthly amount, small but sincere, from India!!for your amazing work. Poetry is such a deep pool one can never cease to dip into. Thanks again Ivan!!

  21. Geoffreyon 13 Nov 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Ivan, the experience you and Peter Mountain relate is one that I would call de-conversion. Once you have given your mind/soul/body to some religious creed/practice/group it’s tough to get it back.

    The ‘de-converted’ have interesting stories to tell. Your story is typical in that ‘breaking with the group’ was a precondition for the next phase. And also the emotional turmoil preceding the break. This happened to me one day while at seminary. I can report that the sense of alienation was so strong, that the other students stopped seeming real to me…that they were more like victims of mass hypnosis…like they were aliens. I cried for hours.

    There seems to be constant strife between those seeking enlightenment and their life with other people. Note that Buddha abandoned both his wife and new-born son to wonder around and seek truth. Was that a bad bargain? Not for Buddha, but for his child and wife, definitely. So you reached a point where you’re wife didn’t seem real? Well, hopefully that last too long.

    Thanks for the poems and for sharing.

  22. Kiran Gulrajanion 13 Nov 2013 at 8:57 pm


    Thanks for sharing this Ivan..

    Wonder if that state of freedom is something that you continue to bathe in.

    This is the song that this instrument called Ivan was born to sing..

    Hope to speak to you someday.. Skype?

    Much love, big hugs..


  23. Ceciliaon 13 Nov 2013 at 11:07 pm

    Thank you Ivan! Had you not gone throughout that journey I would have not discovered sacred poetry, I have found peace and solace in the written words of so many unknown to me. Your own poetry, thoughts of the day have often encouraged me personally. You have found your path in this life and made a difference too many. Namaste my friend.

  24. Joanitaon 13 Nov 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Dear Ivan,
    I feel so blessed to have your words and your presence in my inbox, and in my life.
    Your story, and you, are inspiring. It reminds me of the things that really hold value. We often go through life in imagined fears that the moon, and he soft morning light become rare miracles.
    Thank you for bringing us this bliss, this strength, day after day after day. Thank you for helping affirm our faith in beauty, of all kinds.
    I am Indian, and hadn’t heard of many of the Indian poets who wrote sacred poetry before you introduced them to me.
    Thank you. May you be blessed a million times in stars, and soft morning light, and the beautiful music of love.

  25. Kurianon 14 Nov 2013 at 1:04 am

    Hi Ivan,
    thanks a lot for sharing your inspiring experience as well as for this selfless service to humanity. May your heart be filled with joy and serenity for ever! You are doing a wonderful job. All the best,
    Fr Kurian

  26. Ka-Mu-Raon 14 Nov 2013 at 1:24 am

    Ivan, Thank You for Being! Rumi has been, amongst so many Inspirations, for me closest to my heart. Today, you also have “spoken” for me also. Be Well in Joy, Ivan.

  27. Harveyon 14 Nov 2013 at 1:48 am

    Dear Ivan,

    Your journey is unique yet parallels that of others – contentment, growing feelings of inauthenticity, seeking, finding, questioning, exploring the visions of others, respecting the visions that are given to yourself. A winding pilgrimage through and into truth with dark and light moments of doubt. I value your sharing poetry and yourself immensely.

  28. Carolon 14 Nov 2013 at 5:00 am

    My goodness Ivan, the responses to your verbal sharing of your journey are
    many. Understandably so, because opening your heart to us is so very meaningful.
    I do love David Whyte and his beautiful voice. I was just starting to know and
    appreciate poetry late in my life and found Poetry Chaikhana and have been very
    thankful. You are doing a blessed work and I love your poetry as well. God’s peace
    and love, Carol

  29. Fayinaon 14 Nov 2013 at 7:04 am

    Dear Ivan:

    So grateful for your poetry postings. I have been completely taken by the sacred poetry of the sufi mystics and feel that through their voices, they are able to touch the heart and assist in the spiritual longing of the soul to connect with God. I too have been compiling some sacred poetry on my blog and would love to share it with you.

    With love and grace, Fayina

  30. Joyceon 14 Nov 2013 at 7:14 am

    Thank you, Ivan!

  31. Yewtreeon 14 Nov 2013 at 12:02 pm

    Thank you for sharing your journey. Wonderful stuff.

  32. Gemma Wilsonon 14 Nov 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Dear dear Ivan
    Thank you for sharing your journey. What a wonderful journey it is… and oh I do so understand your experience and agree that at their hart all the great religions are the same… and this experience of the Divine is what we were created for! Heaven can begin here and now!
    thank you for you

  33. Manishon 14 Nov 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Dear Ivan, good morning

    Thanks for your mail explaining beautiful journey

    Great poet have summarized human life in few words..on other hand beautiful meaning is hidden in their metphoric language and it has purpose to engage pure hearts. i do agree with you flow of this language is natural.

    world is dying at one end equally there is hope life thoughts are emerging at other end..i stay head down breathing out thanks to all great people including you who are helping the transformation of human energy from shadow to light.

    kind regards

  34. Ishaon 15 Nov 2013 at 8:59 am

    Namaste and Thank you for sharing your journey,insights and wonderful poetry.

  35. dervishspinon 15 Nov 2013 at 9:39 am

    Thank you Ivan.

    I was just writing about my own experience in awakening, so to see this from you today makes me laugh with joy.

    It’s so important to figure out the words to be able to write about this process in prose. Poetry, for all it’s relevance to the experience itself, can obscure as well as enlighten.

    I hope more people feel confident enough to write openly and plainly about this process. Many of us Awaken, but we awaken in a closet and stumble around trying to figure out who else has been here before us, and “what it all means”.

    Thank you for being one of the people who is opening the door.

  36. Therese Monaghan O.P.on 16 Nov 2013 at 9:01 am

    I am grateful to hear your story, Ivan, and to be the recipient of the fruits of your journey. So much of what you said resonates with me. I think of Peter Kingsley who speaks of finding Divinity in the darkness–Beatrice Bruteau-who has enlightened me about mistaking ourselves with our ego personality and temporal history. My life now is increasingly focused on transformation–to learn to love with simplicity and compassion. Not easy. I love the poets you refer to. Blessings as you continue Poetry Chaikhana–a service to so many.

  37. Gerryon 16 Nov 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Thank you, dear Ivan, for sharing the story of your enlightenment experience! Poetry Chaikhana is a gift to me and you have helped me come to an understanding and appreciation of the various faiths and practices. In my old age, I’ve learned that a practice of one’s faith is as important, or possibly more important than a dogma or belief system. I’m so grateful for your work and the beauty you give to us.

  38. Lois Holubon 18 Nov 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Thank you Ivan, for manifesting your experience of ecstasy by creating Poetry Chaikhana for all of us! And thank you for “Real Thirst” – something to hang on to that’s real paper & ink!! Much love and gratitude to you.

  39. janet bradleyon 11 Dec 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Dear Ivan

    Your story came at just the right time for me. My story is too long for a comment here but as you know, you know my story anyway. Our spirits and hearts and the poetry that they write know no boundaries of religion, race, age or century.

    Thank you

  40. Judith Fine-Sarchiellion 18 Dec 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Read this on a full moon with the winter solstice about to appear along with the Celtic Cross. An important and intense 3 days, when it is most auspicious to meditate and let go of the old patterns. I will always be inspired by your voyage to yourself and feel it as an inspiring example of intent and grit. Bravo! I am spending most of these days in reflection and journaling for what I learned in 2013 and my intentions for 2014, so your story is very valuable and I will keep it to refer to in the future.

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