Archive for the 'Ivan’s Story' Category

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

Dec 18 2009

Yamei – In one shrill cry

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

In one shrill cry
by Yamei

English version by R. H. Blyth

In one shrill cry
the pheasant has swallowed
the broad field.

— from Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, by R. H. Blyth

/ Photo by TheLizardQueen /

I’ll say it now, this poem by Yamei is one of my favorite examples of haiku. Now I suppose you want me to explain why. Well, uh, hmm…

I lived for several years in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. It’s a largely rural island, and I lived “upcountry” where you’ll find lots of hilly fields and cow pastures. I’d drive my car through the winding country roads of Maui, and every once in a while I’d catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of a burst of color — a pheasant startled from its hiding place. It’s ascent was always full of effort, churning earthen wings pushing its sunburst bright head aloft. But then, landing a few yards away, its dignity restored, breast out, watchful eye upon the yellowing sea of grass, the pheasant left no doubt as to who ruled that quiet field. One shrill cry confirmed it.

This haiku reminds me of those island moments.

And something about the way Yamei describes the cry as “swallowing” the broad field. You can almost hear the sharp sound hanging over the field’s dewy silence, defining the space. It is a wild cry, an assertion of self, an assertion of being and improbable lordship, Whitman’s “barbaric yawp.” It’s as if the pheasant’s cry casts out a net that draws in its whole world, making it his, making it a part of himself. That call creates union.

That “one shrill cry,” it wants to burst from your breast too. Let it loose. See what it draws into you.


Japan (17th Century) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Yamei

4 responses so far

Dec 14 2009

Holiday Greetings – and Thank You

Published by under Ivan's Story

As many of you know, this has been a challenging year for me. My father died late last year. Then my mother died this past October. And just recently my wife badly broke her wrist, requiring surgery.

But I want to say that you, the entire Poetry Chaikhana community, have meant so much to me through it all. Your warm-hearted notes, your prayers and supportive thoughts, have touched me deeply. So I want to sincerely thank you, and wish you all a new year filled with joy, unexpected blessings, growth-producing challenges, renewed life, and new possibilities!

Please check out this beautiful ecard I am sending to you. I hope it inspires and brings a sense of peace…

16 responses so far

Dec 06 2009

Book Recommendation: For Lovers of God Everywhere

Published by under Books,Ivan's Story

I’ve been eager to mention this book on the Poetry Chaikhana since it was published at the beginning of November, but life has felt so full in recent months that I just haven’t gotten to it… until now.

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

For Lovers of God Everywhere has quickly become one of my favorite collections of sacred poetry within the many Christian traditions.

Surprisingly, I haven’t found many good collections of the poetry of Christian mystics, until this book. Certainly, there are many books focusing on the writings of individual poets and saints, but not much is available covering the many voices throughout the history of inspired Christian seeking. While this book is short, inviting one to open to any page at random, it still gives a nice flavor of many of the important Christian sacred poets: John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, Hildegard von Bingen, Kahlil Gibran, Dante, Angelus Silesius, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Meister Eckhart, William Blake… and Roger Housden’s brief, thoughtful insights. Another excellent book by the editor of Ten Poems to Change Your Life, Ten Poems to Open Your Heart, and Ten Poems to Set You Free.

And I’m pleased to be able to point to some of my own work in this book, my translation of “The Sum of Perfection” by John of the Cross.

Excerpt from the book:

The Sum of Perfection

Creation forgotten,
Creator only known,
Attention turned inward,
In love with the Beloved alone.

— Saint John of the Cross
(translation by Ivan M. Granger)

Love for John of the Cross is an interior condition of union, with no external object of reference in either the world or in the mind. All attachment to the things and thoughts of this world has fallen away. Imageless, wordless, there is nothing to say, nowhere to go and nothing to do when such a blessedness descends. This poem has all the brevity, clarity, and completeness of a Japanese haiku (though not the exact form of seventeen syllables in three lines) used by Zen practitioner-poets on the other side of the world to deliver their own pity wisdom. It’s chant-like quality is more apparent in the original Spanish:

Olvido de lo criado,
memoria del Criador,
atencion a lo interior
y estarse amando al Amado.

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Dec 02 2009

My wife is healing…

Published by under Ivan's Story

Thank you for the emails wishing my wife well. Her surgery yesterday went well, and she is recovering. She now has a small metal plate in her wrist to make sure the bones reform and heal properly. She now claims that she is the bionic woman… but I already knew she had super powers!

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Nov 29 2009

Wheelchairs, Wrist Injuries, and New Awareness

Published by under Ivan's Story

When I was in my first year of college, I spent a day in a wheelchair. I wasn’t injured. I just wanted to do it, as an awareness exercise. Not for some class assignment. I wanted to get a better sense of how people in wheelchairs relate to their environment. Making my way across the University of Southern California campus was no easy feat. Trying to find ramps hidden around the back of buildings. Elevators that existed only at the other end of a hallway Asking strangers to open doors I couldn’t quite tug open. The simplest things became difficult puzzles. And my arms were exhausted by the end of the day. But I highly recommend it. It will change your relationship to the world around you.

Well, unfortunately, my wife is going through her own version of an awareness exercise, but not by choice, and with significant discomfort. Early last week, my wife fell and broke her wrist. (That’s why the poetry emails stopped without notice.) When we haven’t been sitting in doctors’ offices, I’ve been helping her with all the little things two-handed people take for granted: carrying things from room to room, fastening buttons, opening food containers… She goes through surgery Tuesday, more time in a cast, but over a few weeks she’ll get normal use of her hand back.

I better check on her again, see if she needs another ice pack…

Wishing you all lots of love, and safe footing!

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Nov 11 2009

EATP Interview with Ivan M. Granger

Poetry Chaikhana readers often ask me about myself. Who is the guy behind all those poetry emails? What drew you to sacred poetry? And just what does “Poetry Chaikhana” mean?

Ivan M. Granger, Ivan Granger

As a way to answer some of those questions, I thought I’d post an audio interview I did a couple of years ago with the Ecstatic Art and Theater Project ( I talk a little about myself, and a lot about poetry — the transformational power of poetry, the ways poetry naturally expresses the sacred experience, the non-dogmatic nature of poetry. And I read a few poems.

I hope you find it inspiring and thought-provoking…

Click to listen: EATP Interview with Ivan M. Granger

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Oct 26 2009

A story about my mother’s passing

I am back, but shaking off a tenacious case of the flu.

I’ve received so many kind-hearted, compassionate emails, blog comments, and posts on my Facebook page about my mother. I want to thank you all. I’ve been deeply touched.

…My mother died recently. I was able to spend some good time with her at her bedside. Her final week was difficult, and it was clear that, at that point, her passing was the right thing, a release from her discomfort. The complexities of American medical bureaucracy, added to some strange family politics didn’t give me much chance to grieve initially, but now that I’m settling into my normal life rhythms again the natural feelings of loss are coming forth. Even though most of my adult life I’ve lived at some distance from my mother, she has always been a close friend and source of inspiration. We shared the bond of a solitary child raised by a single mother, so her passing is certainly affecting me.

One thing that people often assume is that when a loved one dies, that the relationship is somehow over. Even people who have a belief in an afterlife tend to react this way, at least on an emotional level. My personal perspective is that the relationship continues; it just changes.

I’ll tell you a story about my mother’s death.

My mother died just past midnight, on Saturday, October 10. Much later that afternoon, my wife, Michele, and I went for a walk in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach, California, where my mother grew up. We were naturally exhausted, a little stunned, not talking much, just quietly walking side-by-side. It was not quite dusk.

Suddenly I stopped and grabbed Michele’s arm. She looked at me and I pointed to the sidewalk in front of us. There, slowly crossing the sidewalk just in front of us, was a huge, green scarab beetle! It was a shimmering, iridescent green, like a walking jewel, a truly beautiful creature. Now I grew up in southern California myself, and I’d never seen a scarab beetle before. I didn’t even know they lived in the region. But here one was, patiently walking across the sidewalk in front of us.

My mother had a deep love for the culture and spiritual traditions of ancient Egypt. Her trip to Egypt, to stand before the pyramids and stone temples, was one of the great moments of her life. Books of Egypt filled her shelves, Egyptian papyrus paintings hung upon her bedroom wall. And a crucial detail: Scarabs are an important symbol of ancient Egypt… often associated with eternal life and rebirth.

My wife and I glanced at each other wide eyed, and knelt to watch the scarab finish her trek across the sidewalk and finally disappear into the grass at the sidewalk’s edge.

You can choose to read that event how you wish, but it felt like a loving affirmation at a powerful moment.


Because I’m still shaking off this flu, I won’t be resuming work on the Poetry Chaikhana for another week. Check back next Monday.

Lots of love to you all!


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