Archive for the 'Ivan’s Story' Category

Jul 18 2011

Ivan M. Granger – Parched

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

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

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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

by chance
or by patience

he stops
in the alley

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–

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

More poetry by R. S. Thomas

7 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.

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!

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
  • 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 (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!


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.



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

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 –
  • 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 (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!


17 responses so far

May 10 2010

A little shameless self-promotion today…

Two of my poems are featured on the TIFERET Journal website. Click on the “Journal” link, and then select “Poetry Corner.” This section of the site is under the guidance of silent lotus, himself a luminous poet who regularly shares his work on the Poetry Chaikhana Forum. Elizabeth Reninger also has a poem on the Tiferet site; you may recognize her name as well, since she’s a poet we’ve featured in past Poetry Chaikhana poem emails.

The Tiferet Journal is an excellent publication, and their site is worth exploring…

One response so far

May 05 2010

Dante Alighieri – The love of God, unutterable and perfect

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The love of God, unutterable and perfect
by Dante Alighieri

English version by Stephen Mitchell

The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
      flows into a pure soul the way that light
      rushes into a transparent object.
The more love that it finds, the more it gives
      itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
      the more complete the joy of heaven is.
And the more souls who resonate together,
      the greater the intensity of their love,
      and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.

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

/ Photo by DerrickT /

In Monday’s poem by Sultan Valad, the line that people particularly responded to, both positively and negatively, was his notion of seeing beneath color to the “colorless.”

I thought these verses by the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri are a nice further meditation on a similar theme.

The love of God, unutterable and perfect,
      flows into a pure soul the way that light
      rushes into a transparent object.

The idea of being “colorless” can imply purity, clarity, being beyond definition, or it can suggest a sort of blandness and lack of life.

This dual connotation reminds me of my earliest impressions of Zen Buddhism. I loved the absolute simplicity, essentialism, integrity, and lack projection. But, frankly, it also seemed rather cold and flat. No elevating imagery. No devotionalism. You sit until you learn to sit. The goal, if you try for a goal, is Nirvana – Nothingness. That sounded rather colorless to me!

The more love that it finds, the more it gives
      itself; so that, as we grow clear and open,
      the more complete the joy of heaven is.

It wasn’t until I began to encounter my own experiences of opening through other practices that I finally came to recognize the immense life and delight that is found in that Emptiness sought so assiduously by Zen practitioners. (It was also then that many of the spiritual definitions and imagery I had clung to so tightly fell away, leaving me in a very simple space and practice that some might describe as Zen-like.)

About that fundamental emptiness, the “colorless”– Colorless glass is not colorless; it contains all colors. Colorless glass does not halt the play of light; it is filled with light, and it lets each color remain entirely itself as it shines through…

And the more souls who resonate together,
      the greater the intensity of their love,
      and, mirror-like, each soul reflects the other.

Have a beautiful day!

Dante Alighieri, Dante Alighieri poetry, Christian poetry Dante Alighieri

Italy (1265? – 1321) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

More poetry by Dante Alighieri

10 responses so far

Apr 28 2010

Hakim Sanai – The way to You

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The way to You
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Priya Hemenway

The way to You
lies clearly in my heart
and cannot be seen or known to the mind.
As my words turn to silence,
Your sweetness surrounds me.

— from The Book of Everything: Journey of the Heart’s Desire, by Hakim Sanai Al-Ghaznavi / Translated by Priya Hemenway

/ Photo by Lel4nd /

I’m back! I’m still recovering from my injury, but I’m mostly mobile now and I can take all but the deepest breaths without much pain. And you know the old joke about how it only hurts when I laugh? Well, if I’m very careful, I can let out a little chuckle… :-)

I can’t tell you all how much all of your get well wishes meant to me. I received so many emails and notes that I couldn’t respond to them all individually, but I read every one and was deeply moved. Some of you sent me poems. Others told me of your own injuries and recovery. A few suggested I switch to the gentler arts of yoga or tai chi, some even questioning how I can reconcile the martial arts with the spiritual path (one person’s quip: “less martial, more arty”). … Material for a future blog post, perhaps.

I’m glad to be back with all of you, sharing another poem…

Hakim Sanai

Afghanistan (1044? – 1150?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

13 responses so far

Apr 19 2010

Poetry Chaikhana on Hold This Week

I just wanted to post a brief note to let you know that I won’t be posting to the Poetry Chaikhana this week. Over the weekend I managed to crack a couple of ribs in a martial arts class. Ouch!

I am doing well, however, and already beginning to mend. Full recovery will probably take a few weeks, but I should be able to return to the Poetry Chaikhana next week.

So, no new poetry posts this week, but I wanted to let you know why.

Sending lots of love!


7 responses so far

Jan 27 2010

The Celestial Drink & Alcohol

In the past I’ve had a few emails pointing out that the language of the Celestial Drink series raises warning flags for people who’ve struggled alcoholism. I have loved ones who are recovering alcoholics, so I understand how serious this question is.

In these Celestial Drink posts, I’ve affected the jovial language of wine and drinking, as do many of the poems we will look at. But I don’t want this to be misunderstood as encouraging alcoholic excess. I certainly don’t read these poems that way.

Actually, I personally don’t drink at all — and never have. I know that sounds bizarre to many people. I wasn’t raised in a strict religious family or anything. In fact, I am the child of hippies, and I was around my share of alcohol and other more interesting smelling substances in my early childhood.

/ Photo by jurvetson /

No, the decision to avoid drinking was a solitary one I made when I was thirteen-years-old. I’ve always loved words, and at that age I started thinking about the word “intoxication.” It hit me that getting drunk would, in fact, make my body “toxic.” So I decided then and there never to drink alcohol. A strange choice that made me something of an outsider throughout my teenage years, but it also taught me a lot about social patterns and behavior. When I was a young adult I discovered that alcoholism ran through my family, further reinforcing my abstinence.

If you want the full truth, I’ll admit that I have tasted wine, beer, champagne, and vodka, each once, and just a sip or two each. I wanted to see what they tasted like. My version of, “I didn’t inhale.” 😉

Neither drinking nor abstinence has anything to do with the Celestial Drink, however. The “wine” we are talking about in this series isn’t wine, and the mystic’s drunkenness is not intoxication.

I sincerely apologize if this series upsets anyone — that is not my intention. But the theme is a foundational one in sacred poetry. I hope that the boisterous language comes through without being weighed down by its literal meaning.

With the Celestial Drink you can be entirely sober and giddy at the same time!

One response so far

Jan 27 2010

The Celestial Drink 1: Introduction

Wine, amrita, ambrosia, dew, tea, elixir, honey, virgin’s milk… References to a secret or forbidden drink appears in the writings and songs of initiates throughout the world. It is a drink that imparts wisdom, inspiration, prophecy, divine madness, and bliss. It is the sign of divine union between lover and the Beloved, the mystic’s marriage wine. But what is this celestial drink really? Why does it appear in sacred writings all over the world?

Let’s explore those questions in this Celestial Drink series…

As I was considering how to begin our exploration of the Celestial Drink, it occurred to me that I needed to find a way to convey that we are not talking about actual wine …or tea or honey or any other physical drink. At the same time, this subtle drink is not merely a metaphor. It is real, and available to everyone.

As long as the discussion remains safely in the intellect, the taste of wine never touches our lips — and who wants somber sobriety when the wine pours so freely?

/ Photo by Jsome1 /

Academics and literary critics are better equipped than I to give you a standard history of how wine and drink images are used in the great writings of the world. Instead, let’s you and I speak in shared whispers, as mystics, passing the cup quietly between us. Let us share the true taste and not simply the description…

Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Omar Khayyam

Iran/Per (11th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

You know, my Friends, how long since in my House
For a new Marriage I did make Carouse:
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.

For “Is” and “Is-not” though with Rule and Line,
And “Up-and-down” without, I could define,
I yet in all I only cared to know,
Was never deep in anything but — Wine.

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas — the Grape!

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.

– Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131)

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Illustrated Edition)
by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald

The language of a sacred drink, a secret drink that imparts wisdom and bliss appears in the writings and songs of initiates throughout the world — wine, amrita, ambrosia, dew, tea, elixir, virgin’s milk. But what are these really? Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

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