Archive for the 'Ivan’s Story' Category

Jun 11 2012

Real Thirst – Poetry Chaikhana’s first book!

I am so pleased to announce our first publication…


Real Thirst, Poetry of the Spiritual Journey, Ivan M. Granger Real Thirst
Poetry of theSpiritual Journey

Poems & Translations by Ivan M. Granger

$14.95
PURCHASE

Also through
Amazon.com
Real Thirst US Real Thirst UK Real Thirst FR Real Thirst DER

Fall 2012:
Kindle & iBook

The poems in Real Thirst are an exploration of the spiritual journey viewed through the mystic’s eyes. This collection is a delightful blend of word and silence, presenting moments of contemplation punctuated with bursts of ecstatic insight.

Real Thirst combines original poems by Ivan M. Granger with new translations of works by visionaries from both East and West: John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, Symeon the New Theologian, Hakim Sanai, Tukaram, Sarmad, Bulleh Shah, Sachal Sarmast, Vladimir Solovyov, Tulsi Sahib, and Antonio Machado.

“I found Real Thirst to be a slow, cool and refreshing drink. The deep singularity present within each poem, evokes a kind of felt suchness, and that is a real gift. I believe you will find these poems an antidote to the rush of your days.”
     ~ JOHN FOX author of Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making


Today I feel like a proud father! The Poetry Chaikhana has published its first book!

Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey is a collection of my own poems along with several translations of works by other visionary poets, from John of the Cross to Bulleh Shah.

This book wouldn’t have come into being without the encouragement and help of the Poetry Chaikhana community — so first and foremost, I want to thank all of you.

As satisfying as it is to have a book of my own poems and translations in print, my ultimate goal is to publish an anthology of sacred poetry, possibly a series of anthologies: a treasure trove of the great sacred poets, accompanied by commentaries. That’s always been the heart of the Poetry Chaikhana.

Before I could commit to such a large publishing project, however, I needed to learn the basics of the process. I had to educate myself step-by-step on every aspect of publishing: editing and proofreading (with the help of several excellent volunteers), page layout and formatting, cover design, print specifications, distribution channels, even marketing. It occurred to me early on that it would be best to go through the learning process with my own work first in order to be well prepared as I move into the bigger projects. Thus, Real Thirst was born.

And, I have to say, I’m very pleased with how this first book turned out.

I do hope you will buy a copy of Real Thirst… and I hope it’s a book you’ll love.

Not only does your purchase support the Poetry Chaikhana, you will also be encouraging future publications. Good sales of this first book makes future books possible. If you are eager to have an anthology of sacred poetry from the Poetry Chaikhana on your bookshelf, purchasing Real Thirst is the best way to help.

Purchasing Real Thirst

You can purchase Real Thirst directly, here. It is also available through Amazon.com.

Since the Poetry Chaikhana is a global community, I managed to also make Real Thirst available through some of Amazon’s international sites, including Amazon UK and Amazon Germany.

eBook Formats Coming in Fall

For those of you with a Kindle or iPad, Real Thirst will be available in both formats later this year. I’ll be sure to let everyone know when the ebook formats are available.

Reader Reviews

If you like Real Thirst, another wonderful way you can help is to post your own review of the book online at Amazon.com and Goodreads.com. People do read those online reviews — I know I do. It is a great way to expand interest outside the Poetry Chaikhana community.

Read More

If you’d like to read a few more samples from Real Thirst click here. You can also see a bit more of the book by clicking the “Look Inside” link on Amazon.com.

And please feel free to send me an email or post a note on the Poetry Chaikhana Blog to tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your responses. The publication of this book — the first of many, I hope — was made possible by the outpouring of love and encouragement from all of you.

Have a beautiful day!

Ivan


“Ivan M. Granger has thrown open the doors of his body, heart and mind to the Infinite’s expressions of Itself in this world… These poems touch all the heart-strings. I laughed, I shed tears, I fell into contemplative states, I felt awe and wonder, love and longing as I read his offerings… You’ll want to return to this wellspring to quench your thirst over and over again.”
     ~ LAWRENCE EDWARDS, Ph.D. author of The Soul’s Journey: Guidance From the Divine Within and Kali’s Bazaar



Sample Poetry

First dawn. Even the
birds in the tallest pines are
surprised by the sun.
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5 responses so far

Jan 13 2012

Ivan M. Granger – Medusa

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Medusa
by Ivan M. Granger

Medusa says –

I was wisdom
once,
black as night.

Now they call me:
      monster,
      gorgon,
      hideous-faced.

So I hide
behind this hissing curtain
of hair.

Lost
little ones,
breathe easy;
you are free
to not see.

But
what is a lonely
old lady to do?

I still wait
for some daughter,
      some son,
so wounded by the world,
to seize these snakes
and part my locks wide.

I still wait
for some bold, tired
      wild child of mine,
determined to die
seeing what’s reflected
in my unblinking eye.


/ Photo by Sophoco /

I awoke early today, before the sun. Observing the nighttime, its embodiment of mystery, the unknown, vastness. Night brings both peace and fear. It does not distract us from ourselves. Whatever we bring with us into the night we must confront.

So I thought of this poem I wrote several years ago…

I read a lot of Greek mythology in my childhood. I loved the fantastical adventures, the heroes, the monsters, the convoluted relationships of the gods. I was fascinated that so many common words and phrases have their origins in the names and stories of Greek myths. It connected me with my Greek ancestry, through my father’s side of the family.

And I also had the vague, semi-formed idea that there was something deeper being said in these myth stories.

I discovered something a few years back that struck me: Medusa, the quintessential monster of Greek mythology, was originally a much loved Goddess. Her name comes from the Greek word “metis” (related to the Sanskrit “medha”) meaning “wisdom.” Her worship is thought to have originated in Northern Africa and been imported into early Greek culture. She was black-skinned, wore wild, matted hair (with, of course, snakes), stood naked, wide-eyed, and embodied the mystery of woman, the wisdom of the night, the truths too profound or terrible to face in the daylight.

Medusa is, in effect, a Mediterranean version of the Indian Goddess Kali.

Medusa was eventually subsumed into the safer, patriarchal worship of Athena, who carries Medusa’s head upon her shield.

This discovery inspired me to look at the figure of Medusa more deeply, more reverently. What is the wisdom that terrifies? Why the snakes? Why the petrifying open-eyed stare? And how does such a bringer of terrible wisdom feel about being rejected by her children as a “monster”?

So I hide
Behind this hissing curtain
Of hair.

One way to understand the snakes about Medusa’s head is as the awakened Kundalini energy, having risen from the base of the spine to the skull — something well-understood in the Mediterranean mystery schools of the ancient world. This vital, snake-like energy is the Goddess energy. Medusa, the Goddess, is the Snake Mother.

Yet, She has formed of this living energy a curtain, a veil that hides Her Face from a world not ready to bear witness to Her. This curtain is the veil of illusion that creates an artificial sense of separation between the world and the Divine.

And the curtain does indeed hiss. When you are quiet and your thoughts settle, you begin to hear a soft sound seeming to issue from the base of your skull. Initially, it sounds like a creaking or crackling noise, a white noise, a sort of a hissing. The deeper you go into silence, the more the sound resolves itself. Eventually, you recognize it permeating your whole body and all things.

You must pass through this hissing curtain in order to meet the deep truth waiting for you on the other side.

I still wait
For some bold, tired
      Wild child of mine,
Determined to die
Seeing what’s reflected
In my unblinking eye.

Medusa’s eye does not blink. This is partly what is so terrifying about her gaze. She stares boldly out and sees Reality as it is. She sees it plainly, fearlessly, and without interruption. There is no pause for interpretation or “filtering.” Medusa’s truth is raw. She is the Divine Mother who sees all of Her Creation in every living instant.

Looking in Medusa’s eye, what is it that you see reflected? Yourself, of course. And this truly is shattering, for you see the truth of yourself. You see the unreality of your little self, your social self, your ego self. That little self is a phantom, a mental creation only.

Medusa, in her shattering wisdom, does not protect you from this realization. Her love for you will not allow you to struggle on with such a false notion holding you back from your true nature.

Seeing this truth, you die. The little self dies.

But, in dying to the little self, your true nature suddenly shines forth. The real Self, which is one with the Divine, emerges. Every aspect of yourself that felt broken and that you labored so long to heal, is suddenly made whole; in fact, you realize nothing was ever broken. That sense of incompleteness was the result of denying the vastness you truly are while clinging to the illusion of the little self.

This is Medusa’s gift to Her children. This is Her terrible wisdom. It is the truth that blesses you through death, and then gives you greater life than you had previously imagined possible.

Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

US (1969 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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13 responses so far

Oct 10 2011

Books: Exploring Spiritual Traditions

Published by under Books,Ivan's Story

This past weekend we got our first real taste of Autumn — brisk, gusty winds, rain-splashed pavement. Good days for well-bundled walks, then a return home for a cup of tea, with a four-legged friend curled at your feet… and, of course, a good book open in your lap.

For your cozy weather reading, I thought I’d update and resend the following note. I hope it inspires some good exploration and deepening insight…

==

Where did my interest in the world’s spiritual traditions come from? Which religious tradition was I raised in? I’m asked these questions all the time.

A bit of background about myself…

I was raised by single mother, an ex-Catholic hippie turned social worker and secret New Ager who told me I should choose my own religion when I was old enough, but who also couldn’t hide her distaste for most organized religion.

By college age, I had a strong interior life and my own motley spiritual practice, but virtually no understanding of what most people call “religion.” While formally studying history and biology, I started sneaking into Bible as Literature classes — that was when I read the Bible for the first time.

At eighteen, I became a voracious reader on religion and spirituality in my spare time, often jumping right to the source material without any context. I read the Quran. I read the Bhagavad Gita and Buddhist texts. I read books on shamanism. I was fascinated and lost amidst everything.

Those were dazzling, bumpy years of searching.

You know what would have saved me a lot of confusion? Discovering the following books. Each of these books is a good, highly readable introduction to the deeper spiritual dimensions of a particular religious tradition. Check them out…

Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages
by Ursula King

Highly recommended if you want a brief survey of important visionaries and trends within the sometimes hidden history of Christian mysticism. Francis of Assisi, Hildegard von Bingen, the Beguines, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, Jacob Boehme, Symeon the New Theologian, and many others. The author of this book has done a nice job of balancing history with spirituality. This little book makes an excellent introduction to the depths of the Christian tradition that are too often overlooked in favor of creeds and rites. Even if you were raised within the Christian tradition, my guess is that much of your own spiritual history was not handed down to you. Here is a good place to start to regain that connection.

The Shambhala Guide to Sufism
by Carl W. Ernst PhD

I am currently re-reading this book. It as an intelligent, insightful look at the history, practices, philosophies, schools, and even politics of Sufism. It doesn’t get deeply into the more esoteric aspects of the Sufi world, but it gives a good overview. If you’ve loved the poetry of Rumi but only have a vague idea of how Sufism fits within the Islamic faith, this book is an excellent place to start.

The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice
by Georg Feuerstein

Unlike the other two books, which are relatively brief introductions to their subjects, The Yoga Tradition is truly encyclopedic. Dubbed “The Blue Phonebook” for its size and color, The Yoga Tradition completely dispells the misconception many have that yoga is just an elaborate form of stretching. It introduces us to ancient and modern yogic philosophies and practices. The many expressions of Hindu yoga, Jain yoga, Buddhist yoga, Sikh yoga, saints, philosophers, and reformers… This book helps us to get oriented amidst thousands of years of complex history with a surprisingly readable, coherent approach. Very highly recommended.

For even more book recommendations, click here.

I hope these books inspire some good exploration (minus the bumps)…

Ivan

15 responses so far

Sep 28 2011

Denise Levertov – Illustrious Ancestors

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Illustrious Ancestors
by Denise Levertov

The Rav
of Northern White Russia declined,
in his youth, to learn the
language of birds, because
the extraneous did not interest him; nevertheless
when he grew old it was found
he understood them anyway, having
listened well, and as it is said, ‘prayed
                  with the bench and the floor.’ He used
what was at hand — as did
Angel Jones of Mold, whose meditations
were sewn into coats and britches.
                  Well, I would like to make,
thinking some line still taut between me and them,
poems direct as what the birds said,
hard as a floor, sound as a bench,
mysterious as the silence when the tailor
would pause with his needle in the air.

— from A Big Jewish Book: Poems and Other Visions of the Jews from Tribal Times to the Present, Edited by Jerome Rothenberg


/ Photo by runneralan2004 /

Today is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It’s no coincidence that it occurs near the cardinal point of the autumn equinox. When the year starts with the darkening months of autumn and winter, the year is born from the inside out. The year begins with an inward focus that nurtures and shapes the outer activities of spring and summer.

My closest friend is Jewish. We’ve been friends since the age of seven. Growing up, I spent much of my free time at his house. I often joined his family for holiday meals and occasionally for a Saturday visit to the synagogue.

In my own home, I was raised by a single mother who was a lapsed Catholic. Through my mother, I picked up a strong sense of morality and spiritual purpose, but only a sketchy idea of what religious life meant to most people. That’s part of why I had both a fascination with and, occasionally, rebellion against my friend’s religious and cultural life.

His family was modern and generally secular. I got the feeling that his parents’ religious observance was more about cultural identity than religious belief. But there were moments, such as when I’d join them on Rosh Hashanah, with his family gathered around the dining table, where each food had a significance — apples dipped in honey to bring sweetness in the new year — that I would feel the spark of belonging, not just to a family, but to a heritage.

I was such a solitary child who didn’t like rules or prescribed behavior. There were times when I was not the best influence on my friend, encouraging him to ditch Torah school so he and I could attend to the mischief of childhood… not that he needed a lot of encouragement. ;-) It was my mother, who had rejected formalized religion, who helped me to recognize the importance of his religious heritage. She reminded me of the grainy black and white photographs in my friend’s living room, photographs of cousins, aunts, and uncles lost to the Holocaust, how the continuing enactment of tradition can be an important way to reaffirm the continuity of one’s identity, of family, of the realization of the dreams of past generations.

My friend now has children of his own. As someone without children myself, there is something deeply moving to me to watch how that mischievous boy is now grown up and sharing his rich heritage with his own children. The turning of the year. The turning of the generations.

We all need to find our own unique way to draw a taut line between ourselves and those who’ve gone before us to show us the way…

Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Jewish

More poetry by Denise Levertov

5 responses so far

Sep 14 2011

Kabir – The Lord is in Me

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Lord is in Me
by Kabir

English version by Andrew Harvey

The Lord is in me, and the Lord is in you,
As life is hidden in every seed.
So rubble your pride, my friend,
And look for Him within you.

When I sit in the heart of His world
A million suns blaze with light,
A burning blue sea spreads across the sky,
Life’s turmoil falls quiet,
All the stains of suffering wash away.

Listen to the unstruck bells and drums!
Love is here; plunge into its rapture!
Rains pour down without water;
Rivers are streams of light.

How could I ever express
How blessed I feel
To revel in such vast ecstasy
In my own body?

This is the music
Of soul and soul meeting.
Of the forgetting of all grief.
This is the music
That transcends all coming and going.

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


/ Photo by mtungate /

I spent much of my 20s in semi-retreat, meditating and fasting. I kept looking for more remote places to live. Thankfully, I have an adventurous wife who was a bit of a vagabond herself at that time. We moved up into the mountains of Colorado for several years until we decided we weren’t built for the intense winters up there. So why not go the opposite direction? We moved to Maui and rented a small ohana (cabin) up along the slopes of Haleakala. When I wasn’t working, I’d walk barefoot among the eucalyptus forests with my two dogs. I discovered a small cave hidden among the trees, not far from our place. It was just big enough for me to sit upright in. I’d hike there, sit and meditate, while my dogs roamed or napped nearby.

I don’t think of myself as claustrophobic, and this cave wasn’t deeply recessed, but feeling all that rock and earth, all that dense… silence, above my head and pressing in at my shoulders, would trigger an instinct to hop out and take a gulp of air. Meditation in a cave, within the embrace of the earth, can be like sitting with death, buried. Or in the womb, waiting to be born. Yet it is so profoundly quiet. When the body finally settles down and the sparks of mind calm, I would become so sweetly still and rooted.

Winter doesn’t have the same meaning in Hawaii as it does in much of the world, but it was there, in winter, my 32nd year, during a moment of spiritual desperation, that some part of me just… opened up. The person I normally thought of as “Ivan” ceased to be. And I was flooded with the most amazing sense of bliss and radiance. It rained down like cool water from above. Then it was like a flood. Then a warm fire glowing majestically in my heart. Everything, all the world, was quietly seated in my heart. That soft sound ringing at the base of the skull became a music that filled my awareness.

It was as if all my life I’d been a tight, cramped bud and assumed that was my nature. Then, in an instant, I’d blossomed — and found I was an entirely different, open being.

What stunned me most was that this heaven was flowering within me, not in someone else, not somewhere else. I knew what an unfocused mess my life — Ivan’s life — was, so how had this come to me? …But it hadn’t come to me. It’s simply what we are, what the whole universe is, beneath the surface appearances.

I remained steadily in that blissful space for several months. Normal social interactions, work, these were a challenge at first, but I slowly began to reconstruct an Ivan-like mask as a way to more easily interact with the world. I didn’t feel it was my role to remain withdrawn and floating in bliss. So I let it become a game, pretending to be Ivan. After a while, I noticed days when I wasn’t pretending anymore. Sometimes you wear a mask, sometimes you imagine yourself to be the mask. It’s now been ten years, with normal life dramas and the occasional crisis. Most days I am Ivan — a likable, intelligent, slightly flakey guy. Then some days I rediscover myself seated in such immense bliss where no simple identity can contain me.

I left my cave. We left Maui and returned to Colorado (but not back up in the mountains). I think of this as when I returned to the world. Or maybe it was my first time entering the world, since I’d spent my whole life up until then trying to run from it. I brought with me my love of poetry, my love of the human journey, and some extra bliss to hand out when no one’s looking…

==

Try re-reading this poem by Kabir now–

The Lord is in me, and the Lord is in you…

When I sit in the heart of His world
A million suns blaze with light…

Listen to the unstruck bells and drums!

Rains pour down without water…

To revel in such vast ecstasy…

I hope you can see that language like this is not simply an artistry of lovely words. This uplifting imagery is a technical language, very precise, describing something very real.

This is the blossoming that every soul craves as the natural expression of its nature.

==

Much love! Have a beautiful day!

Kabir, Kabir poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Kabir

India (15th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi
Yoga / Hindu

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11 responses so far

Aug 24 2011

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi – O End of Every Beginning

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

O End of Every Beginning
by Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

English version by Mahmood Jamal

O end of every beginning,
O beginning of every end,
O manifest of every hidden,
O hidden of all revealed!

The light of Your beauty
In every believer’s eye does shine;
The sign of Your anger
In every denier’s heart we find.

You thank him and he is You,
Himself giver and receiver,
Himself the gift and the thanking.

None but You, the worshipped;
None but You, the worshipper;
None but You, the witness;
None but You, the speaker.

When the Saqi gave Maghrabi the wine
Of eternal life
He was annihilated and eternal.
He was non-existent and existent!

— from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal


/ Photo by janoma.cl /

A little off-topic rant today (but sent with much love!) It just seems like a day to be feisty…

I was a teenager in the 1980s during the rise of the L.A. punk scene. No, I never spiked my hair, got tattooed, or trudged about in heavy army boots. But I had a few friends who were part of that world. Monday morning at school I’d hear fascinating stories of mosh pits and rock bands pushing the human ear’s endurance. I was too quiet and solitary and fond of my eardrums to join the punk scene. But I got along well with my punk friends because, in my very internalized way, I was just as much of an angry young man. You wouldn’t have known it to look at me — my clothes were plain and boring, I was a straight-A student, I was polite and friendly — but like my punk friends, I felt a simmering rage at the society in which I found myself growing into adulthood.

I had gone from the creative, sleepy, back-to-earth hippie culture of Oregon in the ’70s to L.A. full-throttle in the Reagan Era. As I grew into my teenage years, it dawned on me that this was the new mainstream American culture, not my nostalgic memories of Oregon. And I was stuck in it. These were the same things the punk movement was raging against: hyper-insulation, stupid wealth, and flattened souls. All I had to look forward to as I grew into adulthood was learning to live with it all, maybe figuring out enough of the rules to claw my way further up the heap. Like my friends, I felt profoundly betrayed by the world given to me.

Once I entered college, I let my facade collapse, and I began to admit how lost and alienated I felt. My academic focus crumbled, my pretense at life direction fell apart. The most terrifying thing of all was that I had discovered no clear path to follow. I sought meaning as best I could. I read Thoreau, I read Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, I started to meditate. Frankly, none of that helped… not right away. I felt numb, just going through the motions. But I found a sweet, painful intensity in my hungering soul. Strange to say, that’s what sustained me and guided me. When we can’t find food, we can be fed by our hunger. I admit, I was probably miserable to be around at that time, but that intense yearning sparked and finally lit a flame inside me, and that flame has been my light and my heat ever since.

You know, I have some pretty strong political and social ideas, to a level that’s unseemly in someone on a contemplative path, but my most aggressive rebellion has been internal rebellion. We can and should strive to improve the world around us, but more important than unseating men of dark minds, more important than reshaping society, is toppling the tyrannical self that darkens our perception of life. That’s when we finally witness what a heavenly realm this world truly is. That vision is our map. Only then do we truly know where we want to go and have an idea how to get there. Actually, it’s not so much that we have to get somewhere; the heavenly vision just pours out of us, vivifying the world around us. By seeing, by knowing, by being profoundly alive, we become the alchemical means of transforming the world. This is the sort of rebel the world needs more of.

That’s my punk manifesto!

He was annihilated and eternal.
He was non-existent and existent!

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Iran/Persia (1349 – 1406) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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16 responses so far

Jul 18 2011

Ivan M. Granger – Parched

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Parched
by Ivan M. Granger

The parched know –

real thirst
draws rainwater
from an empty sky.


/ Photo by CandyTX /

We’ve been having a heat wave where I live in Colorado, with unexpected rainstorms in the afternoons. Reminded me of this short poem I wrote some years ago…

There is a promise in every deep yearning. Every desire carries within it the seed of its own satisfaction. The trick is to relax into the tension of that yearning. Initially, it feels painful, like an unsatisfied thirst. But when the magnetic power of that thirst grows strong enough, it generates a heat vacuum within that summons rain to it.

So too with the thirst for God. Real thirst, real, all-consuming desire for the Divine, always brings a fulfilling response from heaven, no matter how lost the soul may feel.

Fulfillment descends like gentle rain from a still mind, an empty sky.

Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

US (1969 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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5 responses so far

Jul 01 2011

Hsu Yun – This is an exquisite truth

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

This is an exquisite truth:
by Hsu Yun

This is an exquisite truth:
Saints and ordinary folks are the same from the start.
Inquiring about a difference
Is like asking to borrow string
when you’ve got a good strong rope.
Every Dharma is known in the heart.
After a rain, the mountain colors intensify.
Once you become familiar with the design of fate’s illusions
Your ink-well will contain all of life and death.


/ Photo by paul simpson /

I like what that opening statement says:

This is an exquisite truth:
Saints and ordinary folks are the same from the start.

Whether we’re talking about inspired reformers or shining examples of enlightenment, our instinct is to elevate great souls as unique phenomena. We assume they are somehow other than us. But the liberating truth is that saints are the same as everyone else. The only difference, if we want to call it a difference, is that they don’t cover up their nature as most of us have learned to do. We all have that same steady glow within us. A saint is simply someone who doesn’t damp it down.

Understood this way, the spiritual journey is not one of crushing effort to acquire virtues, to build wisdom, to learn love. We already have all that in abundance. The only work necessary is to let go of the assumptions that keep our true nature hidden.

Once you become familiar with the design of fate’s illusions
Your ink-well will contain all of life and death.

I think these are the lines I respond to the most. I don’t know about you, but I spent so much of my life as a teenager and young adult feeling disappointed with where I found myself in the world. I wanted something profound, adventurous, bursting with meaning. Instead, I had a very ordinary middle class American upbringing. I sabotaged my college education and decided to search for something deeper. Most of that search was a painful flailing about, but it did bring me adventures, both internal and external. I lived on Maui for several years, I lived at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had friends in wheelchairs, friends with wealth. I’ve known hippies and bikers and techies and farmers.

While all of that makes for good stories, that ache for something extraordinary just fell away the moment I first settled into a sense of spiritual opening. With that dawning of peace, I also found rest… and a profound sense of self-acceptance. It wasn’t that I had somehow changed into someone new and extraordinary. Instead, I felt profoundly myself for the first time, profoundly my ordinary self. And I can’t describe how serenely blissful that recognition of ordinariness is. I no longer felt the constant need to struggle to attain the extraordinary; the simple, the plain stood revealed as a stunning work of art filling every day.

These lines by Hsu Yun about “fate’s illusions” remind me of how I spent the first three decades of my life struggling against my circumstances to find a fate with meaning, only to discover that the struggle was unnecessary. All I had to do was open my eyes. In every corner of the world, in every life, big and small, the entire mystery of life and death can be found.

After a rain, the mountain colors intensify.

Hsu Yun, Hsu Yun poetry, Buddhist poetry Hsu Yun

China (1839 – 1959) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Jun 10 2011

Book: Poems of Awakening …and a poem by Ivan

A few weeks ago I received a book in the mail. People often send me their books of poetry, and I love to receive them. But this book particularly caught my eye, an anthology with the promising title of Poems of Awakening. As I leafed through it, I found a delightful collection of poems, ranging from Kabir to Li-Young Lee. I was eager to start exploring its pages, but other things required my attention, and so it sat on my desk unopened for several days.

Then I got an email from the book’s editor, Betsy Small, asking if I’d received the book yet. It was only after I sent a polite email back saying that, yes, I had received the book but hadn’t had a chance to read through it, that a light switched on in my memory. Betsy Small was the person who had asked me about one of my own poems several months back. I opened the book once again and read carefully through the table of contents. Sure enough, there was my haiku, “in love with the new sun”:

in love with the new sun
the cherry blossom forgets
the night’s frost

I had forgotten it was going to be published.

As I continue to read through Poems of Awakening, I rediscover favorite poems by other poets, and I’ve found more than a few that are entirely new to me. This is a book I’ll keep in easy reach on my bookshelf. I recommend it to anyone who wants a nice sampling of sacred and insightful poems that includes some unexpected surprises — including a poem by yours truly!

Poems of Awakening: An International Anthology of Spiritual Poetry
Edited by Betsy Small

===

One other note about “in love with the new sun”… This continues to be one of my most popular short poems. I often get emails about it from people who’ve discovered it on the Web. In fact, a couple years ago, I got an email from a woman in San Francisco who asked my permission to tattoo it on her side. I can’t think of a more permanent form of appreciation that that!

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Jun 03 2011

J. R. R. Tolkien – One Ring

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

One Ring
by J. R. R. Tolkien

Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
      Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
      One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
      One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
      One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.

— from The Lord of the Rings: One Vol. Edition, by J.R.R. Tolkien


/ Photo by alexindigo /

When I was a young teenager, thirteen, fourteen, several friends told me I had to read The Lord of the Rings. I loved high fantasy. A story was only made better by adding swords, in my opinion, and possibly a dragon or two. But, you know, I just wasn’t patient enough for Tolkien’s long tale. Sure, there are some big battles and the occasional bit of wizardly magic, but a lot of it is just about a very long walk. I couldn’t hold my young interest much past Tom Bombadil’s antics in the forest.

It wasn’t until a little over a decade ago, when the first advertisements for Peter Jackson’s movie versions started appearing, that I figured I should read the books before the movies came out. So I finally returned to The Lord of the Rings, but with an adult’s patience. This time I was utterly enchanted by the story! Yes, it has lots of the fantasy elements that appeal to the fourteen-year-old Ivan, but I found that the long slow passages really spoke to me too. So much of The Lord of the Rings is a meditation on the life and character of the land. Some of it reads like a hike with a group of naturalists.

We have a brutally utilitarian view of everything in the industrial worldview. We’ve trained ourselves to see things in terms of how we can make use of them: what we can get, what we can make, what we can control. As a society, we don’t see an ancient forest as a living being with its own history and memory and right to exist; we look at it as an undefined wild space that must be “civilized” and brought under control… made “useful” somehow.

I think this is part of what J. R. R Tolkien was writing about in The Lord of the Rings — the instinct to dominate, willfully turning from the natural world and those who live close to the natural world. The One Ring represents this instinct in its most concentrated form.

A little about Tolkien’s mythology–

In Tolkien’s world, the elves forged three rings of power, but they used their rings to preserve their serene vision of the world. This was perhaps a fault, since they used that power to maintain a lovely, enchanted, but unchanging world in their realms. They tried to fight the inevitable change of time. But because they did not desire dominance, they were not vulnerable to the influence of the dark lord’s One Ring.

The Dwarves tended towards greed, but they used their rings primarily for craft and feats of engineering. Though not the most noble use, they weren’t motivated by the desire for power over others. Being a hard folk, they too were not easily controlled by the evil of the One Ring.

But “Mortal Men” never seem able to accept what Tolkien calls the “gift” of death. They seek longer life at any cost. And, psychologically, life is not only measured in the span of years, but also in how significant one’s presence becomes in the world. In their desperation to evade mortality, Men’s hearts grow dark and hungry to rule.

And so it is in Tolkien’s world that Men, while having the greatest potential for unexpected good, are also the most prone to evil. The nine Men who held rings of power inevitably became slaves to the One Ring. So we get those terrible, echoing lines–

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
      One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

The journey of The Lord of the Rings is a long meditation on a fundamental human dilemma: How do we unmake a weapon we cannot wield? Many talk of the Ring as an allegory of the atom bomb. That’s a good idea, but Tolkien actually started writing the story well before WWII and the invention of atomic weapons. More broadly, the Ring represents blind power and the reflex to dominate. So industrialized weapons certainly have something of the Ring in them. But so too does anything that gives us casual power over other people and the world without requiring us to first feel and know the life we are affecting. Anything that gives us easy power without deep rooted responsibility inevitably corrupts. We possess more than one Ring in the world today. And, of course, the template for the Ring resides within the dark regions of our own psyches. Tolkien asks us, Can we ever unmake such a thing?

…Contemplating shadows during the eclipse.

J. R. R. Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien poetry, Christian poetry J. R. R. Tolkien

England (1892 – 1973) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

More poetry by J. R. R. Tolkien

8 responses so far

May 11 2011

Ivan M. Granger – City Fox

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

City Fox
by Ivan M. Granger

      true native
his land has grown
strange about him

      lean with life
on silent steps
through twilight
he glides

      glanced
by chance
or by patience
perhaps

he stops
in the alley
way

waiting
for you
      to pass


/ Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service /

It’s a rainy day here in Colorado, green spring leaves darken beneath gray clouds. A time for quiet, for inturning, and for shadowy memories.

When I was a teenager, something about the world around me began to feel alien, unnatural, even threatening. And these feelings mixed with the normal teenage angst to create an explosive and desperate spiritual instinct. I came to the grim conclusion that the world has as its primary purpose making us unknown to ourselves, that it steals something fundamental from us in order to create conformity and a shared, but bland reality. Everything began to feel false, artificial; I wanted to know what was true and real.

I became reclusive. I was determined to not be hemmed in by the common assumptions of how the world works, what is real, and what is spirit. I turned inward. I sought solitary places. I sought nature. I sought quiet.

While this period forged my spiritual will, it was also a difficult time. I was depressed, isolated, and lost. But, amidst that struggle, hard, hidden parts of myself began to open. As I learned to trust my own spiritual unfolding, I became less severe in my judgment of the world around me. I slowly lost the need to hold myself in stern separation. I began to recognize myself in others. I discovered in myself a growing compassion, not only for people, but for the world. I came down from the mountain. Ever since, I’ve been learning what it means to really inhabit the world, and share it, and hopefully nudge the boundaries of those common assumptions.

These ruminations reminded me of this poem…

I view the fox in this poem is the Real Self, our inherent, free, divine nature.

The “strange” land that has grown about him, the city of the title, is the construction of thoughts, projections, concepts, and artificial divisions imagined by the busy mind. It is the human world of convention and consensus.

Yet, even in this unwelcoming environment, the fox, the Self, remains. He is the “true native,” present before the mind’s constructions. He belongs right where he is. He knows all that has grown about him is transitory, that it cannot endure.

In this city, genuine sustenance is often limited, so the fox is lean. From the viewpoint of the city dweller, the restless mind, the Self seems to hardly have any substance at all. Yet its very leanness is the proof of its authenticity, its uncompromised, untamed life. Through its leanness, life radiates fiercely!

The Self is silent, and known in silence. Without a sound it moves through the artificial world, true to its essential nature.

It is active in the realm of twilight, the stalking ground between the conscious world of daylight and the unconscious world of nighttime. If you wish to catch sight of this one, you must keep watch in twilight, at the meeting point between the two worlds.

If by chance, or through determined, patient spiritual practice, we catch a glimpse of the Self, the hidden fox stops in plain sight, revealing himself in his full, living, wild glory. Actually, it is not so much the Self that stops; it is we ourselves who stop, the ego, the false self. The sight of such essential life, the realization that it has been secretly sharing the same world with us all along, brings us to a complete halt.

The fox is spied in an alleyway. This alley is the path ignored in the world of the city; it is there, but forgotten, overgrown, avoided, and this is where the fox dwells and hunts. We have finally learned to look into the hidden places we’d trained ourselves not to see.

Once seen, the Self waits. It waits for us to “pass,” to drop the ego sense of self as no longer useful. It waits for us to recognize that we are not ourselves at all but That. We find we are the fox, the real Self, and none other.

Now that’s an encounter worth some strange turns down unknown alleyways…

Have a truly beautiful day today!

Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

US (1969 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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16 responses so far

Apr 15 2011

R. S. Thomas – But the silence in the mind

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

But the silence in the mind
by R. S. Thomas

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean.
We launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

— from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, by Roger Housden


/ Photo by mikebaird /

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best…

Isn’t this poem delightful in its stillness?

This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean.

I particularly like the image of launching an armada of thoughts out on the bottomless ocean of silent mind.

We launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

The silence is so vast that the thoughts can never arrive; they just fade into the misty distances. The image puts proper scale to our thoughts. They are tiny products that barely have substance amidst the great expanse we discover in silence.

The silence is seen, then, not as a negation or emptiness, but an overlooked, all-encompasing dimension of reality and being:

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins

And it is a challenge to us, a beckoning call…

that calls us out over our
own fathoms.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, when the first personal computers started to become available. And, yes, I was one of those nerdy computer kids, spending hours in front of the computer screen, when I wasn’t down at the neighborhood arcade feeding quarters into Pac Man and Space Invaders. It was a new medium, a new world built of light, different ways to display light, manipulate light, and finding meaning in that light. The mathematics, art, and movement of light were mesmerizing.

But once the giddiness and sense of power wears off, you realize how restless that world is. The human mind, never much at ease in any historical period, now has endless promptings to remain entranced and agitated.

I went through a period when I rejected computers and as many other elements as modern technology as I could. I desperately wanted to find out what it meant to live in the essential state of being human. What did it mean to be human 500 years ago? 5,000 years ago? What is the essential human experience of life and self-awareness?

I began to seek remote places in nature, where I could meditate and fast.

I wanted to discover that “silence in the mind” that brings us–

…within
listening distance of the silence
we call God.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m a modern person, a product of the modern era. I would greatly resent being thrust back into some previous era. I don’t take the freedoms and possibilities of my modern life for granted.

But we so miss having a place in society for silence. We are given very little encouragement to cultivate stillness. More than ever we must fight to create the space for silence in our lives. I feel great love and respect for all you misfits and spiritual revolutionaries out there quietly holding ajar the doorways to silence. You are the hope of the world.

What to do
but draw a little nearer…?

…All this, typed on a computer, sent out over the Internet. (Ivan, still trying to find ways to make light move, yet in ways that inspire peace.)

R. S. Thomas, R. S. Thomas poetry, Christian poetry R. S. Thomas

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

More poetry by R. S. Thomas

6 responses so far

Mar 30 2011

Health, Spirit & Support

Ivan M. Granger

I am often asked why I don’t publish a book. I usually give one of several standard answers that are all partly true, but the real reason is that I suffer from chronic fatigue. Balancing my day job, nurturing the Poetry Chaikhana, and maintaining my spiritual practice is often a challenging struggle for me. I just don’t have enough energy left to put together a book, at least for now.

Ivan’s Work

I now find myself with a difficult decision… The company I work for in my day job, my primary source of income, has had to cut my work hours by nearly half. The change should be temporary, for a few months perhaps. But I still have to find a way to make ends meet while keeping the Poetry Chaikhana going.

I may have to consider taking on a second job. But it’s difficult to find work that is adaptable to my up and down schedule due to chronic fatigue patterns. I’d have to reserve as much energy as possible for the new job and either drastically cut back on the Poetry Chaikhana work or possibly put it on hold. That’s not the way I’d like to go.

To avoid that scenario and keep the Poetry Chaikhana going in a good rhythm, I need to reach out and ask for your support. As a community of more than 10,000 regular readers, we can cover enough of the daily expenses to support the Poetry Chaikhana — allowing me to continue to write commentary and send out the daily poem, maintain the poetry database, research and add new poets, update the website, and respond to your emails.

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If the Poetry Chaikhana brings something special to you each day, please consider supporting the Poetry Chaikhana by sending a donation or signing up for a voluntary subscription. Your contribution is truly appreciated!

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But please don’t feel as if I’m asking you to contribute more than you can comfortably afford. Even a small amount — from many people — is immensely helpful. Many contributions from many people makes the Poetry Chaikhana a stronger community project, maintained by many helping hands.

Ways you can contribute:

  • You can send a check or money order in US funds made out to “Poetry Chaikhana” and addressed to:
    Poetry Chaikhana
    PO Box 2320
    Boulder, CO 80306
  • You can make a secure donation online in any amount through PayPal by clicking the “Donate” button below or on the Poetry Chaikhana home page www.poetry-chaikhana.com
  • You can sign up for a voluntary subscription of $2/month or $10/month by clicking either the “Subscribe” or “Support” PayPal button, also below or at www.poetry-chaikhana.com (A regular monthly amount is often easier on your pocketbook and allows the Poetry Chaikhana to plan finances over the long term.)

I also want to thank everyone who has been so generous to the Poetry Chaikhana already, through donations, through notes of thanks, through supportive thoughts and prayers. Every contribution, financial and energetic, is sincerely appreciated.

A warm thank you to everyone!

Ivan

-

I know I’m not alone with health struggles. I thought I’d share an excerpt of something I wrote a few years ago, a meditation on Health, Suffering, and Spirit. I hope it you find it helpful and inspiring.

Here’s the thing: Not every disease or discomfort is meant to be overcome.

That’s a hard thing to say, and even harder to accept. But it’s true. If disease dares to show up in our lives, we want it fixed, removed. We want to get on with life and refuse to see disease as being part of life. Even in the holistic health community which views illness as a teacher, we often want to learn the “lesson” so we can quickly dismiss the teacher.

Sometimes, though, dis-ease is an annoyingly persistent teacher. It teaches us interior awareness. Not something learned quickly. It teaches sheer endurance. And, maybe the most difficult lesson, surrender. Many of us get into the world of “alternative” health as a way to take control. But surrender, that’s much more difficult to achieve with grace. It requires real subtlety to even distinguish between surrender and defeat. I don’t think we should give in or give up. I personally keep trying new things, new approaches, new… strategies. Maybe it’s my Aries nature, but I sometimes think of it as a sparring match. I don’t necessarily get into to it to win. I just like the sparring. Like a martial artist. The back and forth teaches me more about myself.

Don’t speak of your suffering — He is speaking.
Don’t look for Him everywhere — He’s looking for you.

- Sanai

Jealousy

One other thing that has come to me over the years — one of the mental reflexes for suffering is… jealousy. That’s not the first emotion one normally associates with illness, but it’s often lurking in the background. I’ve certainly noticed it.

Why should I have so much of my life and attention diverted by this, when everyone else has it so easy?

Says Farid,
I thought I was alone who suffered.
I went on top of the house,
And found every house on fire.

- Baba Sheikh Farid

I’m always being reminded that no one has it easy. Sure, some people have less struggle, while others have heartbreaking levels of suffering. But, when the weariness clears, I glimpse a surprising truth: None of that is the point. The purpose of the human spirit isn’t to be free from difficulty.

That may sound like a cold statement, but it is not. When deeply embraced, this understanding opens us to greater levels of empathy and compassion, and it begins to create a profound resilience within ourselves, allowing us to encounter suffering without shutting down. In other words, if you hold in your mind the idea that suffering is inherently and always wrong, then when you encounter it, you will instinctively shut down. If, however, you accept the existence of suffering — in yourself, in others — your eyes and heart remain open and your hands become willing in the midst of struggles. Accepting suffering gives you greater ability to genuinely alleviate it.

Spirituality and Health

There is a related unconscious thought we often carry that suffering and illness are the sign that something is imperfect about ourselves spiritually. Saints get cancer and have heart attacks. Sages suffer epilepsy. Medicine women get migraines. The body, being a limited vehicle designed to operate in a sometimes disharmonious environment, will sometimes ail. The mark of attainment is not a lack of struggle, but how we respond to that struggle.

Our lives are simply stories. Sometimes the drama and the heat are high, sometimes they are quiet. What is important is the meaning we discover and reveal through that drama. It’s a supremely difficult paradox: We have to engage intensely in the body and the challenges of life, yet, at the same time, it’s not personal… it’s a fascinating story being told through us.

The hallowing of Pain
Like hallowing of Heaven,
Obtains at corporeal cost –
The Summit is not given

To Him who strives severe
At middle of the Hill –
But He who has achieved the Top –
All – is the price of All –

- Emily Dickinson

Meaning and Suffering

The ultimate question is one of meaning. When we discover meaning in suffering, the suffering becomes endurable. Even comfort and ease, without meaning, eventually become unbearable.

Illness may be devastating, but discovering meaning feeds a hunger even more fundamental than the desire to be free from pain. It feeds the hunger of the soul know itself.

That hunger, when left unfed, is the real source of suffering in the world.

==

how can the heart in love
ever stop opening
- Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

15 responses so far

Mar 18 2011

Jay Ramsay – I saw a great light come down over London

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

I saw a great light come down over London (from Transmissions)
by Jay Ramsay

I saw a great light come down over London,
And buildings and cars and people were still
They were held wherever they were under the sky’s
Clear humming radiance as it descended –
Everywhere, in shops, behind desks and on trains
Everything stopped as the stillness came down
And touched the crown of our heads
As our eyes closed, and the sky filled us
And our minds became the sky –
And everyone, regardless of crime class or creed
Was touched; as slowly we began to stir
Out of this penetrated light-filled sleep
Dizzily as the hand completed its dialing,
And the train lurched forward
And I saw faces looking at one another questioning,
I saw people meeting eye to eye and standing
Half amazed by each other’s presence
I saw their mouths silently shaping the word why
Why didn’t we know this? and yet knowing
They already knew, and without words
We all stood searching for the gesture
That would say it –

As the lights went green, and we drove on.

— from Transmissions, by Jay Ramsay


/ Photo by Arwen Abendstern /

I was a poor child, but raised in an affluent area of Southern California. Several of my friends lived in large houses, with manicured lawns, some with swimming pools in their back yards. My friends had two parents, while I was raised by a single mother. They had family dinner times, Sunday church or Saturday temple, went on family vacations together.

They were living the “normal” life, the American upper middle-class ideal. And I had a strange relationship with their world — I craved its stability, the things and experiences my friends had that I didn’t, but their normalcy was also foreign to me, even a bit eerie. It just didn’t seem real to me somehow. In some ways I wanted it, but I didn’t want to be caged by it.

By the time I was a teenager, I became obsessed with seeing through the facades of that “normal” reality. I wanted to know what secrets were hidden away in the overlooked shadows. I became interested in everything from meditation to history to science to linguistics — all ways of trying to understand the hidden meaning behind the world that everyone takes for granted.

…And, for a time, I was also fascinated by the phenomenon of UFOs.

I think that’s one of the things I really like about this poem — it can be read as a collective moment of spiritual awakening, but it can just as easily suggest a city-wide encounter with a UFO. That’s the first thing I think of reading this poem. It’s not really clear what is happening, just that there is a shared moment of stillness and wonderment. Everyone stops and is confronted with a dazzling, otherworldly reality. What’s actually happening seems less important than the shared experience. Not only is this a witnessing of something that transcends the day-to-day existence, but there is also a recognition of fundamental connection with everyone else. To me it is almost like the opposite of a terrorist event; instead of tragedy, everyone comes together in a unifying moment of bliss and amazement.

Then, of course, the lights turn green, and the business of living continues. But perhaps those people carry with them just a bit more sacred wonder into their daily activities… and who knows the many subtle, far-reaching ways it will continue to radiate out through their lives? This is how private spiritual experience quietly transforms the world.

Jay Ramsay, Jay Ramsay poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Jay Ramsay

England (Contemporary)
Secular or Eclectic

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8 responses so far

Mar 14 2011

Wu Men – One instant is eternity

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

One instant is eternity;
by Wu Men (Hui-k’ai)

English version by Stephen Mitchell

One instant is eternity;
eternity is the now.
When you see through this one instant,
you see through the one who sees.

— from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell


/ Photo by Tobyotter /

I was a typical Aries kid growing up, always leaning into the future minute. The present made me itch. It took a desperate moment of spiritual exhaustion in my early 30s for me to finally drop the reflex to rush forward and just, finally, sit and settle into “this one instant.” My inflated fantasies about myself collapsed and I came to a full halt. I figured that maybe this little moment was all I had. I fell silent.

Slipping into that tiniest space of “now,” an amazing thing happens — it opens itself up into a timeless vastness.

Finally we see. Well “we” don’t see… The person you thought you were isn’t even there to look; instead, there is some great, clear, steady sight that sees through us. And in that still, living moment, we participate in that seeing.

Eternity isn’t somewhere far off in the future. It is, and always is, right here and right now. Nowhere else.

See if you can squeeze into the tight space of this very moment. See for yourself.

Wu Men (Hui-k’ai)

China (1183 – 1260) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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11 responses so far

Aug 27 2010

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Fasting

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Fasting
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring. Don’t give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,
Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast, this table
spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.

— from The Illuminated Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Photo by bennylin0724 /

I used to fast one day a week, every week, as part of my spiritual practice. And when I did eat, I ate very lightly. About three years ago I decided it was time to put weight back on. After having cultivated a sort of spiritual aloofness to the physical world and physical body for most of my adult life, coupled with a few unrelated health problems, I felt it was time to explore what it meant to have a solid, strong physical presence. In a world where so many people struggle to lose weight and go on diets, I actually found it very difficult to retrain myself to eat more food. I even started lifting weights and studying martial arts. But the physical challenge was easy compared to the psychological challenge of deciding to be more physically present, to take up space in the world. I’m still figuring out how to integrate this into my larger spiritual practice. My stronger body no longer fits the image of the emaciated meditator. Do I need a new mental image, or do I just drop those images and be as I am? So fascinating how this body continues to teach me about myself as it challenges my self image.

Yesterday, I did another full day fast, however. It still surprises me how a short fast, such a simple action, can so effectively push the reset button on my energies. My mind clears, my internal clock slows down, stresses ease, my breathing opens up, and the world once again shines. It’s medicine for body and soul.

Made me think of this post from a couple of years ago…

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.

Fasting is something we’re not too comfortable with in the affluent West. Even though all religious traditions, including Christianity and Judaism, have rich, ancient traditions of fasting, we often don’t have a real sense of what spirituality has to do with food — or its avoidance. We tend to take a rather intellectual approach to spirituality. Even in modern New Age teachings, we have the notion that all we have to do is change our thinking and transformation occurs. But the results of that approach are often spotty. One reason is that mind is much more than thoughts, and transforming the mind requires deeper work. Thoughts are built on ingrained energetic patterns. For real transformation to occur, we have to get down to those foundational patterns. Very often this requires not merely changing one’s thoughts, but tunneling beneath them. This is the purpose of deeper spiritual practice.

Fasting is a simple, universal, and powerful way to clear the mind and confront those more fundamental energies in the awareness.

But why? What does food have to do with any of this? We are not two things, a mind separate from a body, or even a mind that inhabits a body. The mind and body interpenetrate one another. If your body is injured, that physical pain demands attention, affecting the awareness. The state of the body impacts the clarity and focus of the mind. Feeding the body pure, healthy foods in general, and periodically allowing it to rest from the exhausting work of digestion can profoundly free up energies for the awareness to tap into.

Here’s something else you won’t hear much: Food is a drug. Every food is a narcotic. Does that sound bizarre to you? I don’t mean that foods are literally hallucinogenic. But every single thing you put into your mouth, affects consciousness in some way. We use food to control emotions. We use food shift mood and change awareness. Think of the instinct to grab a pint of ice cream from the freezer after a terrible breakup. Everything, even a salad, affects consciousness in some way. The resulting psychic shift after eating something can be relatively positive or relatively negative. It can help you to feel solid and grounded or expanded and open. It can tantalize the senses and flood us with feelings of satiation or leave us frustrated. None of this is necessarily bad, but we must understand how profoundly food affects awareness, and utilize food wisely… and sometimes not to consume food at all.

A fascinating thing happens when you fast as part of a spiritual practice: After you ease past the initial psychic tension and your body moves through any detox discomforts — the mind naturally settles and grows quiet. So much of the agitation of the mind arises from the foods we eat.

Recognizing this, food and fasting becomes an important part of spiritual practice.

The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.

The first few times I tried to do just a one day fast, I was frankly terrified. I knew intellectually that a healthy human body can go for days without food, no problem. Many times in the past I had forgotten to eat breakfast, and it was no big deal, but on a day when I intentionally decided to fast, I’d be sweating and panicky by mid-morning. It took me a while to understand that fasting, even a mild fast, is a confrontation with death. It is the willingness to temporarily abandon that constant hunt to satisfy every desire by attempting to slough off the fundamental hunger for food. How do you just have a desire and sit with it, without attempting to immediately satisfy it? That’s a pretty frightening question, when you really ask it.

With a little practice, you discover that what we often assume is physical hunger is actually mental hunger. For well-fed Westerners, it can take days, literally days, for true physical hunger to arise. The hunger we feel when we miss a couple of meals is really just mental habit, the reflexive desire to use food in order to regulate consciousness and control emotion. Follow that reflex to its root, and we find it originating from the ever-fearful ego, which is endlessly attempting to reinforce its fragile construction of a limited self inside a limited world by keeping the mind perpetually agitated.

Fasting, used carefully, with balance, and as part of a larger spiritual practice, becomes a way to help identify and unseat the despotic ego.

This is why fasting is practiced in all religions. And you don’t even have to have a religious “faith.” Just try it sometime, for a day, for half a day, wrestle your way through, and see what happens in you.

Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.

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

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

More poetry by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

11 responses so far

Jul 29 2010

Behind the Scenes with Ivan


Do you wonder what my work with the Poetry Chaikhana looks like?

I normally start my morning off with a meditation, and then I see which poem seems eager to speak that day. I let my computer suggest a poem at random, and then I try to sense if the poem is “right” for the day. Some mornings I select the first poem that comes up. Other days I’ll spend an hour sorting through possibilities. I try to make sure I have a good balance of spiritual traditions represented over the month. I also make a point of including women’s voices regularly. Occasionally I look for a series of poems that follow a sacred theme or metaphor.

Once I’ve selected the daily poem, I often spend a little time researching the life of the poet so I can pass along a few notes with the poem.

Then I sit with the poem, contemplate it, speak it aloud, let it dance in my mind, and I watch the ideas rise for my commentary. Occasionally I slip back into meditation and when I emerge the commentary is just waiting to be written out.

Some mornings I feel I’ve said too much in recent commentaries, and I just send the poem with a short, friendly note. And sometimes I come across a poem with a comment I wrote a couple of year ago, and I think, “I have to share that with everyone again!”

Then I spend a while searching through photos among Flickr’s “Creative Commons” library and look for one that somehow expresses an image or feeling from the poem.

I select a “Thought for the Day” from among the many I’ve written over the years, and I find a music CD.

Then I update the Poetry Chaikhana home page and post the poem and commentary to the Poetry Chaikhana blog. I spend a while adding new sign-ups and removing cancellations from the email list. Finally, I format everything and send out the poem email.

The Poetry Chaikhana poem email now goes out to nearly 7,000 people! It takes my computer 3 – 4 hours to send the poem email out each day.

I also spend time each month looking for new voices of wisdom in books and on the Internet. I try to add new poems and poets regularly. I’ve become quite a speedy typist!

Some weeks I also have to spend time maintaining and troubleshooting the Poetry Chaikhana database and website. Occasionally, I have to wrangle with spam-blocker sites to convince them that the Poetry Chaikhana emails are not spam.

I get dozens of emails each week, sometimes hundreds – which I love! I read every email and, when I can, I send responses.

…And then I start my day job. Whew!

 

The Politics of Poetry

In addition to the spiritual importance of this sacred poetry, there is also a cultural, even a political motivation behind the Poetry Chaikhana. Here’s how I described it in a interview a few years ago:

“Sacred poetry has the unique benefit of being a deeply personal expression of spiritual truth while, at the same time, being largely free from dogma. In the United States, for example, there is an increasing prejudice and fear about the Muslim world. But who can read Jelaluddin Rumi without immediately recognizing the deep truth that Islam can express? The same is true for a non-Hindu reading Lal Ded or a non-Christian reading St. John of the Cross. Sacred poetry is the natural goodwill ambassador for the world’s religions. Poetry can reach across cultural divides, soften prejudices, and shed light on misunderstandings. I hope the Poetry Chaikhana can help to facilitate that process.”

Sacred poetry is transformative on both a personal and a global level.

The Poetry Chaikhana has become a community that reaches across the globe. We have visitors from every continent and more than 220 countries and territories! (See Poetry Chaikhana Around the World.)

The Poetry Chaikhana is an important resource for people all over the world seeking to more deeply understand their own wisdom traditions as well as the spirituality of other cultures in an atmosphere of mutual respect.


/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

 

Your Support as a Community

It is still a struggle to find a workable balance in time and money to bring you the Poetry Chaikhana on a regular basis. I support myself and my family by working part-time as a computer programmer. My computer work is flexible enough to allow me to spend a lot of time with the Poetry Chaikhana, but that also means it’s flexible enough to allow me to earn very little income ;-)

To continue this work, the Poetry Chaikhana needs community support.

If you feel a connection to the Poetry Chaikhana, please consider making a donation.

(I want to be clear, though, that I am not asking you to contribute more than you can comfortably afford. Even a small amount – from many people – is immensely helpful. Many contributions from many people makes the Poetry Chaikhana a stronger community project, maintained by many helping hands.)

 

Ways you can contribute:

  • You can send a check or money order in US funds made out to “Poetry Chaikhana”, addressed to:

    Poetry Chaikhana
    PO Box 2320
    Boulder, CO 80306

  • You can make a secure online donation in any amount through PayPal by clicking the “Donate” button on the Poetry Chaikhana home page – http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com
  • You can sign up for a voluntary subscription of $2/month or $10/month by clicking either the “Subscribe” or “Support” PayPal button, also at http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com. (A regular monthly amount is often easier on your pocketbook and allows the Poetry Chaikhana to plan finances over the long term.)

 

Many of you have been generous with your contributions to the Poetry Chaikhana in the past, through donations, through notes of thanks, through supportive thoughts and prayers. Every contribution, whether financial or energetic, is sincerely appreciated.

A warm thank you to everyone!

Ivan

17 responses so far

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