Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Sep 17 2020

Rolf Jacobsen – When They Sleep

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When They Sleep
by Rolf Jacobsen

English version by Robert Hedin

All people are children when they sleep.
there’s no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.
They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.
If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
— God, teach me the language of sleep.

— from Night Music: Selected Poems, by Rolf Jacobsen / Translated by Robert Hedin


/ Image by Wayne S. Grazio /

For much of the past year I have been free from chronic fatigue symptoms, but they have been kicking up again in the last few weeks. So today why not a meditation on the easy wisdom of rest and sleep?

In sleep, we rediscover our simple innocent being. We are open, vulnerable, in an odd way supremely present in that unconscious state.

All people are children when they sleep.
there’s no war in them then.

All our careful defenses, which have a way of mutating into unnoticed cruelties, loosen in sleep, and slide off our shoulders like a heavy coat. All harm and armor are set aside.

…a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.

Even when our hearts struggle to trust and rest, we have a built-in biological faith that kicks in at night.

The stars stand guard…

The chest unlocks, and the stifled tide of the breath resumes its flow in and out again.

They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.

Imagine the waking world blessed with such unavoided honesty. Think what words and deeds our blossoming hearts would draw to them.

If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.

I look outside the window to see a hazy morning sun. The call of a lone finch echoes through the morning air. My breath slows and deepens. My eyelids grow heavy.

– God, teach me the language of sleep.


Recommended Books: Rolf Jacobsen

The Winged Energy of Delight The Roads Have Come to an End Now: Selected and Last Poems of Rolf Jacobsen Night Music: Selected Poems North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, A Bilingual Edition Night Open: Selected Poems


Rolf Jacobsen, Rolf Jacobsen poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rolf Jacobsen

Norway (1907 – 1994) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

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Sep 04 2020

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen – There is One God

Published by under Poetry

There is One God
by Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

There is One God.
He created all beings,
And He exists beyond the beyond of religions,
Beyond the separations of race,
Religion, and philosophies.
He is beyond mind, desire, and physical vision
He is beyond the world, lust, torpor, and illusion.
God resides in that spotlessly pure place known as the heart
And sees and knows everything.
He sees each and every heart and mind and understands all things.


/ Image by Muslimnity /

There is One God.
He created all beings…

Several of the short statements of this poem can be read as rather simple, standard religious formulations. But when approached with a deeper understanding and an openness, these statements unfold to reveal profound truths…

That opening line, “there is One God,” for example, is an important affirmation in all of the monotheistic traditions. For many, this is an assertion that their image of God is the right one, while all other ideas of God are false, especially religions that embrace a multiplicity of gods.

For genuine mystics, however, the affirmation of One God is not about surface theologies. In the deepest blissful experiences of communion, the Divine is experienced as a profound, all-encompassing Unity. “There is One God” is another way of saying that God is One, God is Oneness, that all things are One in the Divine Embrace. For the mystic in deepest communion, God is the living Wholeness in which all things have their being.

Properly understood, “There is One God” is not a sectarian war cry, it is an affirmation of the sacred unified nature of reality.

“He created all beings,” similarly can be read as a bland formulation about a creator God, but from the mystic’s perspective it is a statement of observed reality. Mystics often report being flooded with a numinous light which is perceived as filling and animating all of creation. That light is recognized as the underlying strata of existence from which all beings and all things emerge. That living radiance is quite literally the source and creator of all beings.

God resides in that spotlessly pure place known as the heart…

Here again we can read this line as a pretty but rather meaningless statement about some metaphorical heart — or we can settle deeply into ourselves and experience with the mystics the space of the heart, which reveals itself to be a wide-open, bliss and love-filled space in which we come to know ourselves as we truly are in profound simplicity and innocence.

This is the pure space in which we see ourselves not as ourselves but in the image of the true Self, as an emanation of that Divine One.

…And sees and knows everything.

I know that for some who worked hard to escape the rigid ideas of their religious upbringing, a statement like this can trigger negative reactions. Too many religious leaders view God as a sort of cosmic cop, always watching and ready to punish. (I am reminded of that Christmas song, “You better watch out. You better not shout. Santa Claus is coming to town. …He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”) I hope it is obvious that this is not the nature of divine reality.

What then does a statement like this really mean, that God sees and knows everything? We’re not really talking about God as a source of information. What’s the point of God being the heavenly Google? When mystics talk about God seeing everything or knowing everything, they are not talking about data, they are talking about gnosis. Yes, in communion, one’s intuition may become highly refined and the ability to pluck surprisingly insightful pieces of information from the ether may be enhanced, but that is secondary. For many, the experience is as if one is bathing in an immense pool of Knowing itself. It is not so much the endless particles of information one sees as the living fluid that fills the spaces between all of those particles, allowing everything to interrelate and take on meaning within the universal whole. One becomes immersed not in informational knowledge so much as knowingness itself.

And from this state one sees with a compassionate understanding the living web of interconnection we all share.

The statement at the poems center is one of universalism and inclusion–

And He exists beyond the beyond of religions,
Beyond the separations of race,
Religion, and philosophies.

When we overcome simplistic theological explanations and connect more directly with the divine reality, sectarianism, prejudices, and separations fall away.

The universe with its kaleidoscopic diversity of expression is, beneath it all, a living Unity. All beings, all people are born from that same living Oneness. How then can we be troubled by differences in race or religion?


Recommended Books: Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

A Book of God’s Love Song of Muhammad Come to the Secret Garden: Sufi Tales of Wisdom Asma’Ul-Husna: The 99 Beautiful Names of Allah A Mystical Journey
More Books >>


Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

Sri Lanka (1900? – 1986) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 28 2020

Clare of Assisi – Place your mind before the mirror of eternity

Published by under Poetry

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
by Clare of Assisi

English version by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP & Ignatius C. Brady, OFM

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself
      through contemplation!
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
      as they taste the hidden sweetness
      which God Himself has reserved
      from the beginning
      for those who love Him.

— from Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality, Translated by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP / Translated by Ignatius C. Brady, OFM


/ Image by Xavier Mazellier /

I especially like the Clare’s opening line:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!

That could just as easily be a statement from the Buddhist canon. Think about this exhortation for a moment. What does it mean to place one’s mind before the mirror of eternity? The mirror of eternity is that which reflects everything back to us. To place the mind before it is to be utterly naked to oneself. Everything within our awareness is shown back to us, our faults and foibles, as well our victories and inherent goodness — all simply as it is. It is the unblinking view of our own heart. Imagine the steadiness, courage, and supreme humility required to truly do this. To witness our true self that openly, the ego and its constant editing of reality can’t come along.

Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!

A lot of religious language, particularly Christian language, talks about “glory.” The word is used so often that most people just skip over it as churchy filler language. But there is a reason the word “glory” keeps getting used. Glory is radiant, numinous light. Glory is that which shines. Glory is “brilliance.”

For genuine mystics, this light is not empty praise language — it is directly experienced. For the mystic, this light is perceived as being a living radiance that permeates everything, everywhere, always.

The sense of boundaries and separation, long taken for granted by the mind as the fundamental nature of existence, suddenly seems illusory, for this light shines through all people and things.

This is Clare’s “brilliance of glory.”

To “place your soul” in that brilliance is to allow the little self to be disappear into the large Self, like a lamp lost in daylight.

This is the radical path of the mystic, allowing that divine radiance to “transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead.”

I also want to point out the closing reference to “sweetness”:

So that you too may feel what His friends feel
      as they taste the hidden sweetness
      which God Himself has reserved
      from the beginning
      for those who love Him.

Those who lose themselves in the divine light in order to gain the light itself, experience — literally — sweetness on the tongue. This is the amrita of Hinduism, the ambrosia of ancient Greece, the wine of the Sufis.

When one enters the sacred ecstatic state, the sensory portion of the mind does its best to interpret the overwhelming bliss through the senses. This is why many mystics taste the most ethereal sweetness on the palette and at the back of the throat, accompanied by a warmth in the belly and heart.

That sweetness is not just a metaphor; it is real, and “reserved” for each of us, as we become an ever more intimate friend to the Friend.

Reflection, light, transformation, friendship, sweetness…


Recommended Books: Clare of Assisi

Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Voices Through the Ages Sacred Companions Sacred Community: Reflections with Clare of Assisi


Clare of Assisi, Clare of Assisi poetry, Christian poetry Clare of Assisi

Italy (1193? – 1254) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Aug 21 2020

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi – The Moon of Your Love

Published by under Poetry

The Moon of Your Love
by Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

English version by David & Sabrineh Fideler

Not a single soul lacks
a pathway to you.

There’s no stone,
no flower —
not a single piece of straw —
lacking your existence.

In every particle of the world,
the moon of your love
causes the heart
of each atom to glow.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler


/ Image by alicepopkorn /

When I first discovered this poem I instantly fell in love with it.

Not a single soul lacks
a pathway to you.

This simple statement is so profoundly healing to the questing human heart.

In a world that places so many demands upon us, in which we pile up our own countless goals and deadlines, it becomes all too easy to feel lost and separated from the Divine. But it is never so…

There’s no stone,
no flower —
not a single piece of straw —
lacking your existence.

The pathway is to simply and entirely recognize the divine existence already present.

We imagine Herculean efforts are required, isolation, smothering asceticism, travels to exotic lands. We forget that the holiest place we can discover is immediately behind the breastbone.

Every effort, in the end, is to reach exhaustion, until we are finally too tired to continue telling ourselves stories about our lives. Finally, finally we fall silent. Finally, we witness ourselves as we are.

What we discover leaves us speechless.

In every particle of the world,
the moon of your love
causes the heart
of each atom to glow.

Every effort, the entire pathway, leads to precisely one step: a step out of the way. That’s when real opening occurs, and it is effortless. The love and light already present blossom within the heart. And every atom, all the universe, is lit up with us.

(You think I’m just spinning another pretty story, don’t you?)


Recommended Books: Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition A Critical Edition of the Divan of Muhammad Shirin Maghribi


Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Iran/Persia (1349 – 1408) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 14 2020

Wendell Berry – Sabbaths 1999, VII

Published by under Poetry

Sabbaths 1999, VII
by Wendell Berry

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

— from Given: Poems, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by Mark Grant-Jones /

It’s been a while since we’ve had a poem by Wendell Berry. And, yes, maybe this poem is for a misty autumn morning, but it suits today just as well…

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing…

That’s the “long lesson,” the slow realization of a lifetime lived with attention: the deep satisfaction of simple moments. Grand experiences may serve as important punctuation marks to life, but it is only when we deeply engage with the gentle flow of small events that we come to know our lives. Remember, real magic is hidden; it is hidden in those quiet moments.

how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

And nature is our constant teacher and guide, again and again bringing us back to ourselves.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.

When we walk well among the woods, with the quiet attention that comes only when self is left behind, we glide through the eternal moment.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be.

And we just might come to recognize the Source of “all this” — right here, within this moment, within our own breast.

Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest…

Berry’s title tells us this poem is about the Sabbath. He understands the real meaning of the Sabbath. It is not the one day out of seven when one goes to church or synagogue. Sabbath is the living moment of sacred rest. It isn’t a question of how often we sit within a steepled hall. Until the mind quiets and comes to rest in the heart, we have not yet honored the Sabbath.

The image of the falling leaf, the reference to the day of rest, this also gently suggests something of death to us. The poet is walking through the woods in autumn and contemplating the how things end, how our own lives play out and come to a close, and there is a quiet contentment. We might find a fullness in that moment of awareness when we simply allow ourselves to be at rest in the natural rhythm of things. Death is not a horror or a source of dread but, in its right time, a strangely sweet yielding, a sabbath.

Whichever day of the week you read this, have a beautiful day of rest and contemplation!


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Given: Poems Selected Poems of Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>


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US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Aug 07 2020

Muhyiddin ibn Arabi – My heart wears all forms

Published by under Poetry

My heart wears all forms
by Muhyiddin ibn Arabi

English version by Ivan M. Granger

My heart wears all forms:

For gazelles it is an open field,
for monks a cloister.

      It is a temple for idols,
      and for pilgrims the Ka’ba.

            It is the Torah’s tablets
            and the pages of the Quran.

Love is the faith I follow.

Whichever path Love’s caravan takes,
      that is my road and my religion.


/ Image by bachmont /

These lines from The Interpreter of Desires are probably Ibn ‘Arabi’s most famous. The entire work is a multi-layered love poem that, like The Song of Solomon in the Bible, can be read as an exploration of the soul’s yearning for God. Ibn ‘Arabi’s poem tells of a pilgrimage to Mecca in which he meets a beautiful young woman named Nizham (Harmony). The ardor awakened by this encounter inspires a quest for the eternal harmony she embodies. Her earthly beauty and grace awakens a yearning for the true Beloved, for God.

My heart wears all forms.

The heart, in this sense, is not just how we feel love, it is the center of our awareness. It is the mirror that reflects whatever we focus on. In other words, the heart, the core of awareness, doesn’t just feel, it takes on the form of what we love. This is why we ultimately become what we love or fixate on, for good and for bad.

When we fall silent, perhaps stunned into silence through a radical encounter with beauty and harmony, we find everything reflected within the heart. Every person. Every creature. Every object. Every thought. We find all of existence reflected within the heart.

And each reflection is recognized as an expression of the Beloved. While we ourselves become formless.

For gazelles it is an open field,
for monks a cloister.

It is a temple for idols,
and for pilgrims the Ka’ba.

It is the Torah’s tablets
and the pages of the Quran.

Can such an awakened heart then reject any school of awakening?

Love is the faith I follow.

Whichever path Love’s caravan takes,
that is my road and my religion.

But, of course, one must understand what real religion is. It is not stone walls or steeples. It is not crosses or crescents. It is neither creeds nor rituals nor books. Though any one of these, properly approached, can open the door.

Like all true masters, Ibn ‘Arabi reminds us that the true religion is nothing less than Love.

This is an all-embracing vision of reality in which the heart has grown wide enough to recognize everyone and everything at rest within itself. An overwhelming, blissful experience of wholeness, interconnectedness, and joy. Words fail, but that pulse of the universal life does not.

That is what religion is. That is the road.


Recommended Books: Muhyiddin ibn Arabi

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) The Mystics of Islam Stations of Desire: Love Elegies from Ibn ‘Arabi and New Poems Perfect Harmony: (Calligrapher’s Notebooks)
More Books >>


Muhyiddin ibn Arabi, Muhyiddin ibn Arabi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Muhyiddin ibn Arabi

Spain (1165 – 1240) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jul 31 2020

Navajo Prayer – May it be beautiful

Published by under Poetry

Navajo Prayer – May it be beautiful
by Navajo (Anonymous)

English version by Gladys A. Reichard

Dark young pine, at the center of the earth originating,
I have made your sacrifice.
Whiteshell, turquoise, abalone beautiful,
Jet beautiful, fool’s gold beautiful, blue pollen beautiful,
Red pollen, pollen beautiful, your sacrifice I have made.
This day your child I have become, I say.

Watch over me.
Hold your hand before me in protection.
Stand guard for me, speak in defense of me.
As I speak for you, speak for me.
      May it be beautiful before me.
      May it be beautiful behind me.
      May it be beautiful below me.
      May it be beautiful above me.
      May it be beautiful all around me.

      I am restored in beauty.
      I am restored in beauty.
      I am restored in beauty.
      I am restored in beauty.

— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by Russ Seidel /

I have come across several variations of this prayer-poem; they all manage to return me to my feet and bring me into quiet awe of the moment.

This version, with its introductory offering to the pine tree is especially moving to me. According to ethnographic notes, this version of the prayer was evoked during healing ceremonies performed in front of a sacred pine tree. The pine tree here is the pillar of life that stands “at the center of the earth,” the world navel, the center of being. This pine is the mediator between heaven and earth, a bridge or doorway between the two realms. This is a healing ceremony performed at the point where the sacred and the mundane touch. And that is where we witness the beauty that heals.

I love the evocation: “This day your child I have become, I say.” Right relationship is restored. More than restored, it is recognized. The soul uncontracts when it remembers it is the child of something profound, alive, divine… and beautiful.
May you be restored in beauty.


Recommended Books: Navajo (Anonymous)

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions


Navajo (Anonymous)

US (19th Century) Timeline
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : American Indian

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Jul 27 2020

Kahlil Gibran – Reason and Passion

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Reason and Passion
by Kahlil Gibran

And the priestess spoke again and said: Speak to us of Reason and Passion.
And he answered, saying:
Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house.
Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.

Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows — then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.”
And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, — then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”
And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran


/ Image by zabaraorg /

This is such an interesting section of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” especially the way he emphasizes the positive nature of passion. Religious and spiritual traditions, both East and West, have a tendency to want to control or even suppress passion. Passion is sex. Passion is emotion. Passion is powerful, intense, turbulent.

Gibran acknowledges that “passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.” Passion, without limitation or conscious guidance, can become a chaotic, consuming force in our lives. But he does not say we should get rid of passion or that reason should subjugate it. He speaks in terms of balanced, integrated use of passion in our lives.

Passion is the engine in our lives. Gibran gives us the image of a ship: passion is the ship’s sails, and reason is the rudder. The sails catch the power of the wind, propelling the ship forward. Passion is power, vitality, life!

But movement without direction is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, can lead us onto rocks. That is why we need the rudder of reason to intelligently use the power of passion’s movement so that we can reach our destination.

One is not “good” and the other “bad.” Both reason and passion are necessary. They must be understood, brought into harmony, used effectively to balance each other.

This may sound like a bit of a tangent, but I’m reminded of the imagery of the Christian Nativity. In the traditional iconography, we see the infant Christ on a bed of straw in a manger surrounded by animals. In the gospel tale, two animals are mentioned specifically: an ox and an ass. Why those two animals? Esoteric Christian teachings sometimes explain it this way: the ox (an ancient symbol of Venus), represents sensuality and passion; the ass can be seen as embodying either the ego or the reasoning mind. What are they doing in this image of divine birth? Notice that they are not suppressed; the ox and ass are not chained or slaughtered. No, they rest, they are at peace, tamed by the presence of the Christ child. More than that, they are actually protecting the infant, giving him their strength. As one 20th century Christian teacher phrased it, “They are warming the Christ child with their breath.” Viewed this way, the nativity gives us an image not of suppression, but of harmonious integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.

I especially like Kahlil Gibran’s summations at the end–

“God rests in reason.”

“God moves in passion.”

Movement and stillness, when we balance both we have discovered how to dance!


Recommended Books: Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet The Beloved: Reflections on the Path of the Heart Broken Wings Jesus the Son of Man Kahlil Gibran: His Life & World
More Books >>


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Lebanon/US (1883 – 1931) Timeline
Christian
Secular or Eclectic

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Jul 17 2020

Francis of Assisi – The Canticle of Brother Sun

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Canticle of Brother Sun
by Francis of Assisi

English version by Ivan M. Granger

My Lord most high, all-powerful, all-good,
Celebration, light, and all sweet blessings are yours,
      yours alone.
No man speaks
      who can speak your Name.

Praise to you, my Lord, and to all beings of your creation!
Praise especially to brother sun,
      who fills the day with light
      — through whom you shine!
Beautiful and bright, magnificent with splendor,
He shows us your Face.

Praise to my Lord for sister moon
      and for the stars.
You have formed them in the firmament,
      fine and rare and fair.
Praise to you, Lord, for brother wind,
      for the air, for the clouds,
      for fair days and every turn of weather
      — through which you feed the world.

Praise to my Lord for sister water,
      precious and pure, who selflessly serves all.

Praise to my Lord for brother fire,
      through whom you fill the dark with light.
Lovely is he in his delight, mighty and strong.

Praise to my Lord for our sister, mother earth,
      who nourishes us and surrounds us
      in a world ripe with fruit, pregnant
            with grassy fields,
            spangled with flowers.

Praise to my Lord for those seeking your love,
      who discover within themselves forgiveness,
      rejecting neither frailty nor sorrow.
Enduring in serenity, they are blessed,
For they shall be crowned by your hand, Most High.

Praise to my Lord for our sister death,
      the body’s death,
      whom none avoid.
A great sadness for those who die having missed life’s mark;
Yet blessed they whose way
      is your most holy will —
Having died once, the second death
      does them no ill.

Sing praises!
Offer holy blessings to my Lord!
In gratitude, selflessly offer yourself to him.

— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by rkramer62 /

Thank you to everyone who sent a note of concern about my absence from these poetry emails. I apologize about that unannounced pause. Let me reassure you that I am doing well and my health is okay. The reason I haven’t sent any poems during this past month or so is because my wife’s mother needed to go to the hospital, then hospice care, and then passed away. (Her death was not related to the current pandemic, however.)

Since my wife was her mother’s only relative, she bore a heavy burden in caring for her and in handling each new challenge and crisis as it arose. It is a profoundly difficult balance to deal with the whirlwind of decisions and responsibilities while also feeling the grief and complex emotions surrounding a close family member’s death. I went through all of this myself when both of my parents died about ten years ago. I was also an only child, but my mother had an extended family of many sisters who helped with everything. My wife has been on her own in dealing with her mother’s death, having only me to help her.

So we have been dealing with nurses and doctors and hospital administrators, sometimes having to fight with them on her mother’s behalf. Worrying questions of nursing homes and healthcare coverage switched to meetings with hospice care workers, who are the saints of the healthcare world. We wrestled with the uncomfortable questions of burial versus cremation and meetings with funeral home directors. We did a weekend sprint to move all of her mother’s worldly possessions from her tiny apartment before month’s end, rapidly sorting through things of emotional significance as if they were random objects that take up too much space. We navigated the bureaucracy necessary to close out financial accounts. I say ‘we’ but much of that effort was led by my wife. While I have helped in all the ways I could as well as acting as emotional support, I have primarily been pushing to keep my work hours high in my day job through all of this so that, in the midst of everything else, my wife can also take time to grieve without worrying about her own work.

Death is such a huge event, the final life passage. I like to think of it as our final initiation, our graduation ceremony. It is quite a challenge to find the balance that allows us to hold the appropriate sense of reverence in the midst of so many pressing practical demands. As a poet and a spiritual practitioner, I naturally want to be internal, contemplative and, of course, a loving presence to the person crossing such a profound threshold, but it takes real skill to accomplish all that is necessary and still hold that inner sacred space.

I continually stand in wonder at the immensity and beauty and crushing challenges of this human life — as well as its closure. I am in awe of every single person on this planet: we all walk a courageous path through this life.

St. Francis composed his masterpiece, the Canticle of Brother Sun, in three parts. The first part in praise of the beauty and holiness of nature as a reflection of the Divine, was written in the Spring of 1225, immediately after he received the stigmata during an extended meditation retreat among a group of caves.

The second section, the segment on forgiveness and peace, was composed soon after, perhaps in response to the squabbling of political and religious authorities in Assisi.

The final verses were written late the following year as St. Francis was dying, in which he seems to be greeting “sister death.”

This hymn is one of the first great works written in Italian. At the time, Latin was the language of the Church and of learning. Yet, as part of Francis’s humility and affinity with the common people, he composed this praise poem in simple Italian so all could be inspired by it.

Praise for brother sun and sister moon, for the living wind and water and fire and earth. Praise for love and peace, without which the living awareness collapses to barrenness. And praise to death, too, who, in the fulness of time, brings completion and life’s final initiation. Through this poem we witness the whole pageant of life as it expresses itself through us and all the world.

Be well, everyone — and bright blessings!


Recommended Books: Francis of Assisi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time
More Books >>


Francis of Assisi, Francis of Assisi poetry, Christian poetry Francis of Assisi

Italy (1181 – 1226) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Jun 12 2020

Kabir – Between the conscious and the unconscious

Published by under Poetry

Between the conscious and the unconscious, the mind has put up a swing
by Kabir

English version by Robert Bly

Between the conscious and the unconscious, the mind has put up a swing:
all earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway between these two trees,
and it never winds down.

Angels, animals, humans, insects by the million, also the wheeling sun and moon;
ages go by, and it goes on.

Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,
and the secret one slowly growing a body.
Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life.

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


/ Image by Johnny Jet /

This is a rather loose translation, but I like it.

Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,
and the secret one slowly growing a body.

There is a continuous flowing between the subtle and the manifest, between spirit and matter. Spirit pours through matter, giving it life and awareness. Matter, in turn, gives form to spirit, striving to embody the limitless amidst limitation.

And so the swing goes back and forth, patiently, playfully, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frightening.

It isn’t a process where we find that perfect spot and then it all stops. “It never winds down.” It is an interplay that continues, and we find our rightful place by seeing the entire dance…

Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life.


Recommended Books: Kabir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Songs of the Saints of India
More Books >>


Kabir, Kabir poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Kabir

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

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Jun 03 2020

John of the Cross – Love’s Living Flame

Published by under Poetry

Love’s Living Flame
by John of the Cross

English version by Ivan M. Granger

O love’s living flame,
so softly do you sear
the deepest center of my soul!
Now that you no longer shy away,
end this game, I beg of you, today:

Rip open the veil separating us
in this sweet rendezvous!

O tender burn!
O burning boon!
O gentle hand!
O delicate caress,
that infers eternal life
and renders all debts paid!
Killing,
death into life you have made!

O beacons of fire,
in whose splendor
the blind, dark
deep grottoes
of the senses,
with strange and stately art,
warm and enlighten,
and win my love!

How tenderly is your memory
cherished in my breast,
where you alone reside and in secret rest:
Here I taste in your perfumed breath
goodness a-flood with glory–

How gracefully you’ve won my love!

— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by roujo /

I have been hesitant to send out a poem in the last few days. With the mass protests against police violence, racism, and economic injustice emerging in the US and beginning to spread across the world, along with the chaotic nature of such spontaneous uprisings, there is so much to say, but I haven’t fully distilled my thoughts. I have, instead, been processing the energies of this important moment, getting to know the currents moving through society right now. I encourage each of us to take some time to feel what is happening and why, not through the logical mind but using a more immediate, empathic part of our awareness. The pain and fear and frustration that are fueling this mass movement are significant, so this moment should not be surprising. The question is, will this movement gain focus and purpose? Or will it fragment into chaos? How harsh or accommodating will be the response of federal and state governments? Even a brutal crackdown — which, unfortunately, seems likely in the current environment — will only redirect these immense energies to find new expressions in the world. It doesn’t make things any easier that we are coming up on three eclipses within the next month. A lot of upheaval, though, on a certain level, necessary and unavoidable.

It is worth keeping in mind the saying, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” The question is not how to get things back to normal. If things felt normal even a few years ago, then we weren’t paying attention. The question is, how do we make our social systems responsive to the real needs of people, especially those who are struggling or being brutalized? On a personal level, what can we do to step out of our own bubbles of comfort in order to be a more positive presence in the world?

I encourage us all to practice awareness, keep the heart engaged, and to be of service where we can.

===

Meditating on these sharp questions, John of the Cross came to mind. He speaks so eloquently of the integrated extremes experienced by the awakening soul.

…A poem to explore the soul’s journey of wounding and death, leading to renewed life and openness and integration.

John of the Cross gives us several important themes here worth exploring:

Fire…

In the ecstasy of deep communion, there is often a sense of heat—filled with immense love—that permeates the body. As this fire moves through the body, it also moves through the awareness, consuming all thoughts (or, more accurately, the tremors from which thoughts emerge). This fire burns away even the thought of “I” until only the sense of this living flame remains.

This is such a wonderful fire that mystics often describe it as a flame of love, so enchanting that, like the moth, you want to dart in and be utterly consumed.

This is why John of the Cross refers so passionately to “Love’s living flame.”

Pain and Wounding…

The notion of wounding as part of the spiritual path has particular significance within mystical Christianity, but we find similar language in all spiritual traditions.

This “pain” has a few levels of meaning. At one level, the pain can be quite literal and even physical. But it might be more accurate to refer to this as intensity rather than pain. It can be as if the senses and the perceptual mind’s ability to process it all gets overloaded. The mystic then experiences a searing, cleansing sort of intensity that might be called pain.

Through profound opening, one feels everything more completely, a sort of universal empathy. There is a lot of hidden suffering in the world and, at a certain point, we feel it as our own. (Actually, we always feel it anyway, but in deep communion the walls of denial fall away, and we become aware of it for the first time.) In a directly sentient way, we become aware of the interconnectedness of life. Initially, that flood of feeling is intense, even painful, but that is the pain of the heart breaking open. It becomes a sort of wound one carries, but it resolves itself into a beauty and sense of unity that manages to incorporate even the most terrible suffering.

Other mystics speak of a wounding in a more metaphorical sense. The pain experienced is the perception of one’s separation from God. But that pain itself is the doorway to reunion. By allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable to that pain, to surrender to it, the mystic finds the pain transformed into the blissful touch of the Beloved.

Ultimately, all of these forms of pain are the pain of the pierced ego. For one with inner balance, where the protective but limiting shell of the ego is no longer necessary, that pain points the way to freedom.

For this reason, mystics and saints describe the pain as being joyful or beautiful. This pain is, in fact, the beginning of bliss.

With all this talk of pain, let’s not forget that this pain is not a negative. When we acclimate to the intensity, when the reflex to contain the flood eases, we discover that the overriding sensation is one of sheer bliss.


Recommended Books: John of the Cross

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
More Books >>


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Spain (1542 – 1591) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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May 28 2020

Vidyapati – My friend, I cannot answer when you ask me to explain

Published by under Poetry

My friend, I cannot answer when you ask me to explain
by Vidyapati

English version by Edward C. Dimock, Jr. and Denise Levertov

My friend, I cannot answer when you ask me to explain
what has befallen me.
Love is transformed, renewed,
each moment.
He has dwelt in my eyes all the days of my life,
yet I am not sated with seeing.
My ears have heard his sweet voice in eternity,
and yet it is always new to them.
How many honeyed nights have I passed with him
in love’s bliss, yet my body
wonders at his.
Through all the ages
he has been clasped to my breast,
yet my desire
never abates.
I have seen subtle people sunk in passion
but none came so close to the heart of the fire.

Who shall be found to cool your heart,
says Vidyapati.

— from In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali, Translated by Edward C. Dimock, Jr. / Translated by Denise Levertov


/ Image by Boris SV /

The speaker in this poem is Radha and the “him” she refers to is Krishna. Bhakti poetry often celebrates the love affair between Radha and Krishna, but it plays with multiple levels of reality at once: it can be read as erotic love poetry and, at the same time, as an exploration of the love between the soul (Radha) and God (Krishna).

Try reading this poem a few times. Start with the poem’s surface meaning, its beauty, sensuality, and yearning. And, with each reading, look progressively deeper and with an open heart. See what emerges.

Love is transformed, renewed,
each moment.

When we are in a truly open state, deeply at rest with what is, we are flooded with the most profound sense of love and bliss. As a concept, considered from outside the conscious experience, this might sound rather uninteresting.

Love is nice, and when it is strong it can feel wonderful, but even at its best, do we really want to feel it as an unending experience? Of course, in these thoughts the mind is imagining objectified love — love for a person, love for a thing or an experience — which floods us with endorphins but is also too often followed by an emotional crash. It can be the sugar rush version of love. Extreme swings are normal with that sort of love. As we mature in our relationships and our desires, the extremes level out and our connections become more steady and, hopefully, more fulfilling. But we have still externalized our ideas of love, limited it, and often used it to reinforce the ego sense of identity.

Then, just maybe we come to a point of stillness and openness, and that limited experience of love blossoms in a way we never imagined possible. It is just there, utterly and undeniably. Love. Not hooked outwardly upon a person or an experience, not tethered internally to feelings of reward or reinforcement of the ego-self. There is just the deep well of love bubbling up and flowing out in all directions.

Not only is the joy of this love indescribable (“I cannot answer when you ask me to explain”), it is somehow alive and continuously shifting its color and tone, always new, always a fresh experience from moment to moment. Love is transformed, renewed, each moment.

This is the awareness Vidyapati seems to be exploring in these lines, the delight and surprise of the continual newness of the experience, how it fulfills without sating, how experiencing it we recognize it as our natural state and seek to continuously center ourselves within it.

Through all the ages
he has been clasped to my breast,
yet my desire
never abates.

==

…Now I have to put my shoes on and go outside to plant some acorn squash. I hope to see their vines happily meandering around the edges of my garden later this summer.


Recommended Books: Vidyapati

In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali


Vidyapati, Vidyapati poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Vidyapati

India (1340? – 1430) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

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May 15 2020

William Wordsworth – Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows

Published by under Poetry

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows (from The Prelude, Book 1)
by William Wordsworth

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!

— from Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty, Edited by Alan Jacobs


/ Image by Viewminder /

It has been a while since I have turned to Wordsworth, but reading these lines I have to wonder why I have stayed away so long.

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music

Even that beginning line is worth rereading a few times. Here Wordsworth distills everything into this one elegant image of the transitory human being that is somehow, miraculously home to the immortal spirit. And that immortal spirit emerges within us, or, rather, we slowly become more aware of it throughout life as if it is an underlying harmony within music. When focused on the individual notes, as we focus on the details and specific events of life when we are younger, it can seem chaotic and fugue-like, but when we relax and allow our awareness to take it all in, we begin to recognize the underlying musical beauty:

there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.

Then the poet shares the revelation that comes to him:

How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself!

Let’s unpack that statement because it is so rich, we don’t want to miss its beauty. He has that wonderful phrase, “when I am worthy of myself.” That is, when our identity rests in the vastness of the immortal spirit we all are, that is when the whole symphony, the entire tapestry of life reveals itself to us. The amazing thing is that is not just the lovely, delightful experiences that have a place in that blissful wholeness; the terrors and struggles have played a part too, and an essential part. How can such beauty and fulfillment emerge from such a complex patchwork of life experiences that includes suffering? Somehow it does. The bliss of that grand vision, when witnessed from the fullness of the full Self — it embraces it all, integrating everything, recognizing an all-encompassing harmony. The ego-mind that desires only pleasant, self-aggrandizing experiences rebels at this possibility, but the true self witnesses it all with a smile that heals even the cruelest wounds as it rests amidst unassailable calm. To some this may sound like one more spiritual platitude amidst life’s difficulties, but this is the actual experience when we settle into the Self we all inherently are.

Religious belief has nothing to do with this holistic vision of life. Even the impious find themselves stammering–

“Praise to the end!”

Be well, look out for one another, and discover the hidden wonders of the day.

=

PS- During the recent Covid stay at home period, we have been doing some gardening. This morning my wife said something that I thought was worth sharing: The good thing about gardening is that there is no social distancing with plants.


Recommended Books: William Wordsworth

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Complete Poetical Works William Wordsworth: Selected Poems
More Books >>


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England (1770 – 1850) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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May 08 2020

William Stafford – Cutting Loose

Published by under Poetry

Cutting Loose
by William Stafford

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path — but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.

— from Ten Poems for Difficult Times, Edited by Roger Housden


/ Image by Vic /

This poem was featured earlier this week in Roger Housden’s poetry email and I found myself rereading it and spending time with it in a way that told me this is one worth sharing.

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing.

This opening line really hooked me. The word “sorrow” here evokes for me the sense of someone who is privately wrestling with depression. I think I remember reading that the poet, William Stafford, dealt with depression in his life. I myself went through a particularly difficult bout of depression as a younger man, and several beloved friends and family members have gone through their own experiences of depression. So I read this entire poem through that lens.

This is what rings true for me in that first line– sometimes the most unexpected joy and exuberance can emerge from those dark states.

Depression is not what most people imagine it to be. It is not actually about feeling sad. Depression, in my observation, is not an emotion at all. It is more of an energetic state, an overload of the nervous system and the outward-focused attention. It becomes a forced state of interiority and disconnection from the busy external world. But depression, when understood and well-integrated, can become a rich, dark reservoir of creativity, self-awareness, and surprising fulfillment.

When intense, depression can be frightening and bleak, but when we let go of the constant need for “up” energies, cultivate stability, and learn to drink in the small, quiet joys, we discover a richer, deeper sense of self.

I will take it a step further and perhaps even upset a few people by saying that a certain amount of depression is a healthy and necessary thing. Of course, depression can get extreme for some people and, when it is not understood or well-handled, it can be devastating. But I genuinely believe that a certain amount of depression is a normal response for a healthy person in a world that is often out of harmony. In other words, depression, in its moderate forms, is not an emotion or even an illness, it is a response. The great challenge is to not deny that natural depression and, instead, to integrate it, channel it, use it well and finally emerge from that shadowed space as a more whole, clear-seeing, and compassionate individual who can exist in the world without being unbalanced by it.

I say all of this because I think a lot of people are experiencing their own private depressions right now and feeling more isolated because of it. It is important to remember that no one is alone in that experience and, as difficult as the state may feel, it can be utilized as a tool for self-awareness and personal growth. It is within these dark spaces that transformation occurs. Where it feels like only shadows and sorrow exist, a new clarity emerges, a new voice rises full of life — and you find yourself singing.

Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else.

Have a beautiful day full of new inspiration and unexpected joy!

Be well.


Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Even in Quiet Places The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems
More Books >>


William Stafford, William Stafford poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Stafford

US (1914 – 1993) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Apr 28 2020

Rainer Maria Rilke – I find you, Lord, in all Things

Published by under Poetry

I find you, Lord, in all Things
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world:
groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

— from Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell


/ Image by Ben Fredericson /

This is a poem I have featured before, but I found myself reading it this morning and decided that it was a good one to share with you again…

and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

Isn’t that a magical line? In the second verse Rilke is really saying something of deep insight about about what real power is:

The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world…

The “power” he is talking about is obviously not power over, not the domination of the warlord or the predator. Following on his first verse, we can read power as the power of the “Lord, in all Things.” It is the power of life itself, awareness, presence. Rilke’s use of the word “power,” makes us question the assumptions of common language: Perhaps this gentle presence is real power, rather than the fleeting assertion of force and fear.

This real power plays a game in the world of things. It expresses its power through submission, rather than control. Like water, it yields and so finds its destination. It allows, and so fulfills its purpose. It is supremely humble, and so is humbly present everywhere, in all things, without prejudice or rejection. It rises from the lowest to the highest, vivifying everything it touches–

groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

This power flowing through us and all our “fellow creatures” binds us all with the same life. You’ll notice, it is not even our life at all. Rilke says “your life,” the Lord’s life. It is something we participate in, a current we ride as it flows through us and the world, but it is not our own. Rilke is hinting at a larger vision in which there is only one Life flowing through a million “Things.”

Hildegard von Bingen, the great medieval mystic, called this the viriditas or greening power of God.

Too much of our relationship with the natural world is built on ideas of separation and domination. Such foolishness can only ever harm us. When we see clearly, we see as Rilke does that we are part of the same shared Life. To harm the natural world is to rebel against God. Is that language too religiously loaded? Reread Rilke’s poem, and then think about it.


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus
More Books >>


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Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Apr 17 2020

Shabkar – One must remain in the vastness

Published by under Poetry

One must remain in the vastness
by Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

English version by Matthieu Ricard

One must remain in the vastness,
      alert and lucid,
Letting one’s gaze encompass
      the infinity of the sky,
As though seated on the summit
      of a mountain open
      to all the horizons.

— from Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar, Translated by Matthieu Ricard


/ Image by Thom Chandler /

I am acutely aware of the anxiety being felt by everyone — concerns about Covid-19, uncertainty about jobs and the economy in general, the increasingly messy political situation, all surrounded by the pressures of isolation. The first thing to remember is that, even though we are not yet able to interact with people in the ways we are used to, we are not alone. Whatever worries you may be feeling are being shared by many. Even in uncertainty and isolation, there is connection and community and, therefore, strength.

As I like to say, everything is an opportunity for awareness. Even in moments of fear, we should always be asking ourselves, what can I learn from this? How can I use this moment as a way to step free from limited ways of thinking and open my heart?

One observation that comes to mind is that when society is moving along in expected ways we are much more likely to align with the group mind. The group mind asserts that reality is a certain way and the routine functioning of day-to-day life seems to confirm it, so we enter into that shared psychic current — for good and for bad. We can list many of the ways that is a good thing, but it also lulls us into a rather narrow band of perception and self-awareness. When those outer certainties, which were never certainties in the first place, change, when the rhythms of the human world shift and become less predictable, the fear we feel is more fundamental than the question of a paycheck or health concerns; it is a fear that reality itself is falling apart. It is worth reminding ourselves that reality itself is never vulnerable and the only thing that changes is our agreed upon description of it. We are being coaxed to see reality in a new way, to see different aspects of reality, to see a wider view of reality.

One must remain in the vastness,
      alert and lucid

In chaotic or uncertain moments, it is as if we are stepping out of a dense forest onto the open plain. The change in what we see and how we understand it can be overwhelming at first. The spaces we inhabit are so different. It can feel like entering an undefined emptiness. But, of course, it is not empty; the plain too is filled with life. This is the challenge, to quickly adapt our awareness to the new terrain, to recognize its regular features, to find what is familiar and identify what is new, to be at home in a more open space. Even the forest inhabits that open space, we just weren’t as aware of it.

Letting one’s gaze encompass
      the infinity of the sky

In other words, the less rigidly we hold to some idea of how things used to be or “should” be and, instead, allow our minds to acclimate to what is happening right now, the more naturally and confidently we can step forward.

As conscious beings we always want to perceive as clearly as we can. We want to perceive as much of reality as we can. And we must remind ourselves that what we call reality is just a mental model of what actually is. When that mental model is shaken, we can try to prop it up exactly as it was before, but more rickety and at a tenuous angle, or we adjust it, improve it, strengthen it to reflect new understanding.

Moments of uncertainty are a genuine opportunity to update that mental approximation of reality. We have the opportunity to notice who has been suffering and neglected all along. We have a chance to review our assumptions and assess which ones don’t stand up to scrutiny or stress. We are invited to embrace possibilities that had previously been rejected. We can use this time for redefinition and improved perception.

Moments of uncertainty are a genuine opportunity to update our descriptions of reality, both personally and collectively, in order to more fully reflect the immensely mysterious space of being we inhabit together.

The big challenge is to not shut our eyes as our vision expands.

As though seated on the summit
      of a mountain open
      to all the horizons.


Recommended Books: Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight & Awakening Rainbows Appear: Tibetan Poems of Shabkar The Life of Shabkar: The Autobiography of a Tibetan Yogin Food of Bodhisattvas: Buddhist Teachings on Abstaining from Meat


Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol), Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol) poetry, Buddhist poetry Shabkar (Shabkar Tsogdruk Rangdrol)

Tibet (1781 – 1851) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

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Apr 07 2020

William Stafford – Starting with Little Things

Published by under Poetry

Starting with Little Things
by William Stafford

Love the earth like a mole,
fur-near. Nearsighted,
hold close the clods,
their fine-print headlines.
Pat them with soft hands —

Like spades, but pink and loving; they
break rock, nudge giants aside,
affable plow.
Fields are to touch;
each day nuzzle your way.

Tomorrow the world.

— from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by William Stafford


/ Image by Treemad Madagascar /

I know that I missed last week, no poem email. In the midst of so much uncertainty for everyone, I have been striving to keep my work hours solid and, of course, just trying to navigate the shifting social environment. First, the guidelines are about social distancing, but we still need to go to the grocery store and walk the dog, so everything must be done with care and attention. Then guidelines in our area state that we should be wearing masks and gloves in public. Going to the grocery store looks like going to the hospital. Eyes become furtive. Are people smiling a greeting behind those masks? Checkout counters now have plexiglass barriers erected.

But there is also often a friendliness during our cautious outings. People, keeping their distance, say hello with the warmth of shared experience. Everyone is going through this. Everyone’s life is disrupted. Everyone’s plans have become questions. And a sort of community emerges.

So I have been starting with little things…

I have been making a point of regularly connecting with friends through online video calls. My day job has always involved working remotely, so our weekly office video conference call continues.

Our kitchen counter once again holds jars of sprouts — alfalfa sprouts, adzuki sprouts, lentil sprouts are a favorite. We have a tray of sunflower greens happily growing near the window. I loved growing sprouts in past years but had fallen out of the practice. This seemed like a good moment to start up again. The fresh food is wonderful, of course, but even more, I love the sense of life it brings into our home. Bright, growing green things. Gently watering them each morning and evening becomes a sweet communion with the living world.

And that has led me to one of my bigger projects, starting a vegetable garden. I have a space in our yard that has been waiting for several years as I worked through my excuses. I had been telling myself that, while I liked the idea of growing vegetables, I didn’t have a natural instinct for working in the earth. Air, fire, even water come fairly naturally to me, but earth, that feels like labor. Here’s the thing, though– I have to remind myself that I have been doing that earthy work. Nearly twenty years ago, something in my passionate, erratic nature found an inner sense of fulfillment and… just settled into itself. I have been consciously cultivating steadiness and follow-through in my life ever since, as a direction and as a daily practice. I surprise myself these days by how much satisfaction I derive from the quiet rhythms of each day and its small rituals. To me, that is earth. And, through significant labor, I have learned to love it like a mole. The nearness of mundane life. Its friendly jostling. Its tactile presence.

So I have been digging in the earth this past week, running my hands through the soil. Today I’ll be mixing in some compost and turning the soil. We haven’t experienced our last frost for the season, but I’ll be planting in a couple of weeks, a few early season vegetables — and flowers for joy.

Fields are to touch;
each day nuzzle your way.

Tomorrow the world.

I hope you and your loved ones remain well and that you continue to find ways to be engaged with life, day to day and hand to earth. Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems Even in Quiet Places The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy
More Books >>


William Stafford, William Stafford poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Stafford

US (1914 – 1993) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by William Stafford

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