Mar 10 2017

Li-Young Lee – One Heart

Published by at 10:18 am under Poetry

One Heart
by Li-Young Lee

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

— from Book of My Nights, by Li-Young Lee


/ Image by hashmil /

We are in the midst of Lent, a time for prayer and purification as we approach Easter. For many, this is a time of fasting. That started me thinking about the question of emptiness, and what that has to do with spiritual opening.

And then I was reminded of the wondrous opening lines of Li-Young Lee’s poem:

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing.

To take flight, birds launch themselves into apparent emptiness. Of course, successful flight requires an awareness that the sky is not truly empty, but a realm of subtle substance that can support us.

One must cultivate an inner emptiness and lightness in order to let go of the comforting certainty of the earth, to confidently leave it behind and meet that intangible space of open sky, and there dance among its secret currents.

The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.

This, I think, is an important reason why practices such as fasting and other expressions of moderate asceticism are encouraged on occasion by most spiritual traditions. Forget the tormented dogmas of self-denial that tend to lead to hatred of the body — which should automatically be seen as a spiritual dead end. The real purpose of these sorts of practices is not disdain for the body but, rather, to awaken in our awareness that sense of openness, spaciousness, and inner quiet… while allowing the body to rest and regenerate and become more finely attuned to our higher purposes in life.

If we don’t cultivate awareness of the inner sky, the “first sky,” we fail to recognize that taking flight in the world around us is our natural expression. Instead, we fear that we will fall.

The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Perhaps we can think of flight as intentionally falling without ever hitting the ground. We leap into space, letting that inner emptiness lift us up. And perhaps what we thought was fear was in reality the exhilaration of the heart encountering the openness of the living moment while we soar upon nothing.


Recommended Books: Li-Young Lee

Book of My Nights Rose The City in Which I Love You Behind My Eyes: Poems


Li-Young Lee, Li-Young Lee poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Li-Young Lee

US (1957 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Li-Young Lee has a fascinating family history. Lee’s maternal grandfather was the first president of the Republic of China. His father, however, came from a family of businessmen and gangsters. During the Chinese Civil War, Lee’s father was attached to a nationalist general who switched sides, which resulted in Dr. Lee becoming the personal physician to Mao Tse-tung for a brief time.

Li-Young Lee was born after the war when his family had moved to Indonesia. While Lee was still a toddler, his father was jailed for political reasons for nearly two years. When he was eventually released, the family moved about for a while. In Hong Kong Lee’s father became a hugely successful evangelical preacher and businessman.

Lee’s father was an emotional man and, after an argument, he dropped everything and left with his family, finally settling in the United States, where Dr. Lee became the minister of a small church in Pennsylvania.

Li-Young Lee grew up in the US and studied at the University of Pittsburgh. He currently lives in Chicago.

More poetry by Li-Young Lee

One response so far

One Response to “Li-Young Lee – One Heart”

  1. pat johnson 10 Mar 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Ivan: Your analogy of “One Heart” is excellent, thank you so very much for sharing the poem and your message. –shanti, pat johns

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