Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Aug 29 2016

John O’Donohue – For a New Beginning

Published by under Poetry

For a New Beginning
by John O’Donohue

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

— from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue


/ Image by Shermeee /

I haven’t been doing many Monday poems recently, but since I didn’t send one out on Friday, I decided to start the week off with a poem…

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening

Isn’t this a wonderful blessing of hope and new pathways?

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

I like that this poem is kind to the phases of our lives when we feel stuck or reluctant to change and explore. Yet, at the same time, it recognizes that the safety of familiar routine can be a seductive illusion.

When I was young I actively undermined any routines I found in myself, convinced that they led to a sort of psychic numbness and lack of deep fulfillment. I think there was truth in that perspective, but there was also self-cruelty in that approach that led to instability. Once I came to see that, I worked very hard, sometimes painfully, at the cultivation of routine, and began to find unexpected life nourishment there. The crucial element, I think, is that those routines should be consciously selected rather than imposed on us by societal expectation or unexamined habit.

And we can’t fall into the seductive idea that we are those routines or that our happiness depends on them. Routine creates essential structure, but endless stasis is death. Life and growth require change. Regular encounters with the new and the unknown reinvigorate the soul.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk

New avenues can sometimes be frightening, occasionally bringing genuine peril, so one shouldn’t be brash or blind to the situation. But a certain boldness is natural to our nature when we come to know ourselves. We need awareness, dynamism, creativity, a diversity of life skills — all wrapped in a vital joy. Then even the perils themselves serve to accentuate the magic and wonder of each stage of the journey.

Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

Sending love, courage, and new rhythms…


Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Conamara Blues Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom Echoes of Memory
More Books >>


John O'Donohue, John O'Donohue poetry, Christian poetry John O’Donohue

Ireland (1956 – 2008) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Secular or Eclectic

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Aug 24 2016

Yoka Genkaku – There is the leisurely one

Published by under Poetry

[1] The re is the leisurely one (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

There is the leisurely one,
Walking the Tao, beyond philosophy,
Not avoiding fantasy, not seeking truth.
The real nature of ignorance is the Buddha-nature itself;
The empty delusory body is the very body of the Dharma.


/ Image by ahermin /

It’s a sleepy morning here, overcast after many long days of summer heat and sun. And this poem appealed to me. It suggests to me the drowsy way of enlightenment.

There is the leisurely one,
Walking the Tao, beyond philosophy,
Not avoiding fantasy, not seeking truth.

Not through effort, but through quiet being and quietly seeing.

Not trying to control the mind or force silence or a specific way of seeing. Simply observing. The movement of the world, the movement of thoughts, they come, they go. Watching these flickering phenomena though drowsy eyes, they tell us more about the spacious depths than their jostling surfaces. We yawn behind a hand as we watch the show.

An enlightenment for sleepy mornings.

The real nature of ignorance is the Buddha-nature itself;
The empty delusory body is the very body of the Dharma.

To clarify what is meant here by “ignorance” and the “delusory body” it may be helpful to mentally substitute the concept of Maya, which is the world of seeming and illusion. It is the world of apparent thingness and separation, when underlying it is the real world of unity and interbeing. Our ideas about the world, confused as they usually are by the illusions of Maya, lead us into a state of ignorance as to the true nature of reality. But as we quiet and honestly see, then that ignorance itself is seen not so much as a barrier to truth but an invitation to look deeper. Ignorance is itself of the Buddha-nature.

Likewise, all of our ideas about who we are within a separate physical body amidst a world of separated bodies, that “delusory” point-of-view surprisingly relaxes into the recognition that there is only the presence of Dharma, the outpouring “way” of the Eternal.

=

A confession: I sat down this morning thinking I would pick a short poem and not try to add many of my own words by way of commentary. I feel like I’ve been a bit long-winded lately. And here I am writing another longish commentary. Someday soon I may recover the virtue of succinctness. But not today, apparently.


Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

Buddhism and Zen


Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

China (665 – 713) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan
Taoist

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Aug 22 2016

Video: Ducks in Search of the Moon – Ekphrastic Haiku by Gabriel Rosenstock

Published by under Poetry,Videos

A reading of ekphrastic haiku in both Irish and English by Gabriel Rosenstock. “Ekphrastic” poetry is poetry inspired by art. Each haiku is accompanied by a painting that inspired it.

These will make you pause and think… and chuckle, some of them.

Ducks in Search of the Moon from Jim Swift on Vimeo.

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Aug 19 2016

Mansur al-Hallaj – Kill me, my faithful friends

Published by under Poetry

Kill me, my faithful friends
by Mansur al-Hallaj

English version by Andrew Harvey

Kill me, my faithful friends,
For in my being killed is my life.

Love is that you remain standing
In front of your Beloved
When you are stripped of all your attributes;
Then His attributes become your qualities.

Between me and You, there is only me.
Take away the me, so only You remain.

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


/ Image by detail24 /

Nothing like a death wish in the opening lines of a poem to startle us to attention–

At first reading, this poem by Hallaj is really rather disturbing. Why is he begging his “faithful friends” to kill him? Even the language of being “stripped” has an element of violence to it. Yet, with all of that, why does the poem seem to emanate such bliss?

When Hallaj asks to be killed, he follows by saying that “in my being killed is my life.” He is not talking about physical death, he is talking about the mystic’s death, the death of the ego-self, ecstatic annihilation in God. And in that annihilation, true life is found. This is what he implores his faithful friends to grant him.

Such a radical loss of the ego is like standing naked, “stripped of all your attributes” before God, the Beloved. When that occurs, we recognize the divine qualities are actually our own qualities and have been all along.

Hallaj’s final lines are especially rich in meaning. When there is “me and You,” that is, a sense of duality or separation between you and God, “there is only me.” The ego-self, the “me,” shades all perception so everything, even the idea of God, only reflects the ego back to itself.

This is why we must “take away the me.” When we do that, when we drop the ego-sense, then no “me” remains and the Divine is found to be present everywhere.


Recommended Books: Mansur al- Hallaj

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology
More Books >>


Mansur al- Hallaj

Iran/Persia (9th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 17 2016

Vidyapati – All my inhibition left me in a flash

Published by under Poetry

All my inhibition left me in a flash
by Vidyapati

English version by Azfar Hussain

All my inhibition left me in a flash,
When he robbed me of my clothes,
But his body became my new dress.
Like a bee hovering on a lotus leaf
He was there in my night, on me!

True, the god of love never hesitates!
He is free and determined like a bird
Winging toward the clouds it loves.
Yet I remember the mad tricks he played,
My heart restlessly burning with desire
Was yet filled with fear!


/ Image by http://vishnu108.deviantart.com/ /

I’m back. I took time last week to make some good progress on the next Poetry Chaikhana anthology. I’ll let you know as it is closer to being ready for publication. Soon!

=

All my inhibition left me in a flash…

Whew! Don’t these verses raise a little color to your cheeks?

This excerpt is such a beautiful example of how the soul, the individual self can yearn for God with such a passion that it can be described in erotic terms. Much like Jayadeva’s sacred-erotic classic Gitagovinda, Vidyapati also sings of the passionate love between Radha and Krishna.

The speaker here is Radha, recalling her love-play with Krishna. Radha represents the individual soul who has fallen in love with God, Krishna. It is her intense love that draws Krishna to her. This “burning” desire purifies the soul, elevating it into a finer and more subtle state, becoming like the heavenly “cloud” that draws the divine “bird.”

The soul is “restless” with desire for union with the Divine, but also “filled with fear” — for union means we lose ourself and become God’s own.

I especially like the first few lines, the way Vidyapati plays with double meanings. Radha breathlessly says “…he robbed me of my clothes,” while the soul is saying that God removed all superficial identity. Just as we cover the nakedness of our bodies with clothes, we also try to hide our natural state in order to present a socially acceptable facade. We craft a whole new identity with the clothing we wear. The way a person dresses tells us his or her work, wealth, age, social connections, etc. But they are not who we truly are. Our vestments become masks reflecting the ego. In divine union, we are not the business executive, the struggling artist, the son of so-and-so, the wife, the mother, the spiritual seeker. No, divine union makes us naked; we are simply as we are. We can bring nothing but our bare selves to that sacred meeting.

But in this naked state, we are surprised — stunned — by our very wholeness. We suddenly recognize that we have been using the clothing of ego to hide from a false sense of shame. We have spent our entire lives feeling somehow broken, incomplete, disappointed. We’ve labored under the false notion that there was something wrong with being who we were, so we cover our true nature with social roles, with accomplishments, trying to so impress people (mostly ourselves) hoping that no notice will be taken of who we really are underneath all those layers. But when we truly get naked, when we finally strip down and see ourselves as we are, we are transfixed by a vision of wholeness and immensity and joy. Though no rational explanation can be offered, this vision of reality is recognized as our true nature, our true Self. This is how Radha, the soul, can truthfully proclaim in ecstasy that “his body became my new dress.” In divine union, the identity shifts from the ego to the vast Being we call God. That is the only real identity.

“He was there in my night, on me!” In truth, “he” has claimed us in all ways. And, in the resulting joy, all inhibition — that is, all false shame and fear — leaves “in a flash.”

Still feeling that flush? You should! That flush is the flush of life, the flush of life force, the flush of anticipated union…


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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Aug 05 2016

Dame Catherine Gascoigne – One thing alone I crave

Published by under Poetry

One thing alone I crave / Unum sit mihi totum
by Dame Catherine Gascoigne

English version by Stanbrook Abbey


One thing alone I crave
namely
All in everything

This One
I seek
the only One
do I desire

Rooted in One
is all
from the One
flows all

This is the very One
I seek
will have
only then
be filled

Unless I drink
this Spring
I thirst
for nowhere else sup I to be fulfilled

What or Who this One is
I may not say
can never feel
Nothing
more or less
is there to say

For the One is not simply in all
the One Being is over all

YOU are my GOD
holding me
within my very SELF

* Reprinted by permission, Copyright Stanbrook Abbey 1999


/ Image by NotBalckEnough /

Such striking, evocative phrases of the mystic’s quest for the unified One…

One thing alone I crave
namely
All in everything

… and …

Rooted in One
is all
from the One
flows all

I particularly like the lines:

What or Who this One is
I may not say
can never feel
Nothing
more or less
is there to say

For the One is not simply in all
the One Being is over all

This touches on a dilemma mystics all over the world encounter. Why is it that Dame Catherine asserts that, “Nothing more or less is there to say”? The problem is that there is no language for the all-encompassing Reality (“the One”) encountered by mystics.

The reasoning mind understands reality by dissecting it. The intellect slices reality into manageable pieces that it can comprehend and manipulate. We use a limited language to describe a limited, fragmented notion of reality. But the Divine Presence witnessed by mystics in deep communion is the Wholeness of reality.

But the One permeates everything and has no boundaries. “For the One is not simply in all / the One Being is over all.” How then can the poor intellect hope to describe that which is “All in everything”?

This doesn’t mean the intellect can’t try, by resorting to metaphor (and poetry), but the communication of this divine Truth ultimately comes not through words but through participation. We silently take people by the hand and lead them to the fountain, inviting them to drink for themselves.

And, another secret– the encounter with the Divine is inexplicably linked with the discovery of one’s true self…

YOU are my GOD
holding me
within my very SELF

Dame Catherine Gascoigne, Dame Catherine Gascoigne poetry, Christian poetry Dame Catherine Gascoigne

England (1600 – 1676) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Aug 03 2016

Mary Oliver – Thirst

Published by under Poetry

Thirst
by Mary Oliver

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

— from Thirst: Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by aeravi /

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have.

I suppose that’s the state of human existence. We wake and the thirst kicks in. There is always something we want, we crave, that somehow is missing but necessary for us to feel whole. Most of the time we don’t really know what that something is. We think it is this or that, this person, that thing, this feeling, that experience. But then, when we attain them, we may go to sleep satisfied but wake up the next morning and thirst again. The thirst remains. And so we refocus it on something else, a new thing, a new experience. And we begin again.

I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons.

We start to pay attention (hopefully) and examine the thirst more deeply. This thirst, this ache, resides in a deeper part of ourselves, and it cries out for a deeper connection with reality.

Like the poet, I tend to find intimations of that deeper reality when I am quiet and surrounded by the rhythms and life of the natural world. I notice that my heart relaxes and opens, and my focus expands. My thoughts becomes less grasping and more fluid.

But is that too one more experience held onto, one more fixation that ultimately limits my ability to satisfy the thirst I feel?

Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart.

Any experience of beauty and fulfillment requires a delicate touch. If we become attached to its outer form, then the inner, soul-nourishing liquid begins to trickle away. When we say to ourselves, that meditation, that walk, that person, made me feel so wonderful yesterday, so I will repeat it today and tomorrow, then we have lost the essence that fed our spirit. The trick is to recognize the real thing beneath the thing. The real thing is intangible, subtle, fluid, and not contained or limited by the outer form. If it can be grasped or controlled, that’s the husk and not the sweet sap.

At first this recognition is frustrating. It is like a tug-of-war within the heart, the comfort and familiarity of outer forms everywhere on display upon the face of the earth, with the slow recognition every form is really just a symbol, an incomplete representation of what lies within. And it’s that inner substance that alone satisfies. The path to mastery, I suspect, is to be able to dowse those secret waterways, remaining undistracted by outer forms and formulations of what has worked in the past. Even patterns of prayer and communion that fed us at one stage can fall barren. We are then challenged to let go of our fixation on the familiar in order to rediscover the sacred directly. For it is that living, nourishing fullness of spirit is always the real and only goal.

Yet the one is not entirely separate from the other. Landmarks and forms are useful pointers. So we have this dynamic relationship of inner and outer, complimentary and sometimes in conflict.

Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing…

Why then do we so mightily cling to outer things? When that underground flow of life nourishment has moved on, then our focus must move with it. The material things that were once a conduit for us but no longer, let us pass them on for they may feed another. And when we leave the earth, we will still follow that secret flow, not the things that briefly pointed the way to some wellspring.

…except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

Here I am sipping from a tall glass of water watching the sun dance on the leaves of the aspen outside my window. Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light Thirst: Poems American Primitive
More Books >>


Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Mary Oliver

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Jul 29 2016

R. S. Thomas – The Bright Field

Published by under Poetry

The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

— from Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds, Edited by Neil Astley / Edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce


/ Image by Heather Ruiz /

I first discovered R. S. Thomas’s work just a few years ago, and I am still surprised by how much his simple, direct language rings in my mind.

This poem, for example. It moves through each phrase, saying nothing more than is needed, then steps into the next line. It conveys an easy patience, no rush, no ornament. You can almost hear the poet’s aging voice, a slow, dark syrup.

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it…

This seems to be a poem about being present enough, still enough, grateful enough to really encounter the gift each moment offers to us.

We can be so busy and purposeful that we glance but don’t see, that we brush past without truly touching and feeling.

I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it.

It takes courage to really meet the living moment, and more than a bit of eccentricity.

I remember how I used to go for long walks through the neighborhoods of Eugene, Oregon and, later, Boulder, Colorado, and I would just pause to really look at an interesting bush, or crane my neck up to look at the silhouetted leaves of a tree at twilight. And I would just go into rapture. That moment, that place, that light, that moment of recognition. I would lose myself in the wholeness of the perfect intersecting moment.

I have had my share of strange looks, of course. Once a pickup truck pulled up while I was staring up at a majestic cottonwood in wonder, and the man rolled down his window, stuck his head out, and asked, “What is it? What do you see?” I had no words. “It’s the tree,” was all I managed. “It’s beautiful.” He muttered something to his wife in the passenger seat, and they drove away laughing. They clearly thought I was high on something. But, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve never done drugs, and never even had a glass of wine or beer. I was just drunk on that moment.

This is really an important key, giving ourselves permission to be odd enough to pause and to really see where that magically whole sense of life is just waiting for us to notice.

It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

In the busyness of our days and the importance of our life goals, we imagine that there is nothing there. At most it is a pretty scene or a pleasant moment. But it is intangible. It doesn’t give us anything. It doesn’t pay the bills or bring us love. It doesn’t resolve an argument or advance our careers. Such moments seem nice, but ephemeral.

But that’s when we aren’t really looking. We glance but we don’t really see. We aren’t really pausing to notice the radiance and life right there, right in front of us, in that field, in that tree, in that corner of the room.

When we really allow our attention to shift, when we let go of that constant “hurrying to a receding future” or “hankering after an imagined past,” and allow ourselves to really settle into where we actually are and the encounters of this moment, the world opens up, it glows, and so do we. In the smallest space of time that we call right now, we discover the immensity of eternity waiting there for us, shining. And we are somehow gathered up into a wholeness we always hungered for but didn’t fully believe existed.

Stillness and seeing, eccentricity and ecstasy. And a walk in a field. That’s a good spiritual formula, if you ask me.


Recommended Books: R. S. Thomas

For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds R. S. Thomas: Selected Poems R. S. Thomas (Everyman Poetry) R. S. Thomas: Collected Poems 1945-1990
More Books >>


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

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

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Jul 27 2016

Derek Walcott – Earth

Published by under Poetry

Earth
by Derek Walcott

Let the day grow on you upward
through your feet,
the vegetal knuckles,

to your knees of stone,
until by evening you are a black tree;
feel, with evening,

the swifts thicken your hair,
the new moon rising out of your forehead,
and the moonlit veins of silver

running from your armpits
like rivulets under white leaves.
Sleep, as ants

cross over your eyelids.
You have never possessed anything
as deeply as this.

This is all you have owned
from the first outcry
through forever;

you can never be dispossessed.

— from Sea Grapes, by Derek Wolcott


/ Image by Long-Pham /

Let the day grow on you upward

I love this opening line. It plays with that phrase that something can grow on us, that we slowly become acclimated it, harmonizing with it over time, befriending it, until it becomes a part of us.

through your feet,
the vegetal knuckles,

to your knees of stone,
until by evening you are a black tree…

And in this poem, the day and the earth are the same. We not only accept it, but we accept it into our body. We become, in a sense, possessed by the life of the earth as we participate in the day until, by evening we have become a “black tree,” that is, strong, rooted in the earth, filled with a patient, steady life that is one with the world around us.

the new moon rising out of your forehead

That image of the new moon, perhaps a thin crescent, rising from our forehead, evokes in my mind the iconography of India, Shiva with the crescent moon of enlightenment upon his brow.

You have never possessed anything
as deeply as this.

Are we possessed by the earth and life and the day, or do we possess it? Self and earth, they participate in each other. They yield into each other.

Everything else, wealth, role, home, these things shift and evolve, coming into our lives, sometimes leaving to return in another form. But the land and the day and the deep self, the root reality of all things, they are truly in us, in our bones and flesh. They are not merely things we seek and hold; they are what we are. And so the poet concludes with–

This is all you have owned
from the first outcry
through forever;

you can never be dispossessed.

Something I find very grounding and deeply healing about Walcott’s poem.

Have a beautiful day upon this beautiful earth!


Recommended Books: Derek Walcott

Sea Grapes Collected Poems 1948 – 1984 The Poetry of Derek Wolcott 1948 – 2013 Omeros White Egrets: Poems
More Books >>


Derek Walcott, Derek Walcott poetry, Christian poetry Derek Walcott

St. Lucia & UK (1930 – )
Christian

More poetry by Derek Walcott

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Jul 22 2016

Denise Levertov – Variation On A Theme By Rilke

Published by under Poetry

Variation On A Theme By Rilke
by Denise Levertov

(The Book of Hours, Book I, Poem 1, Stanza 1)

A certain day became a presence to me;
there it was, confronting me — a sky, air, light:
a being. And before it started to descend
from the height of noon, it leaned over
and struck my shoulder as if with
the flat of a sword, granting me
honor and a task. The day’s blow
rang out, metallic — or it was I, a bell awakened,
and what I heard was my whole self
saying and singing what it knew: I can.

— from Breathing the Water, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by Janne Hellsten /

Isn’t this a wonderful poem?

The Rilke verse referenced is–

The hour is striking so close above me,
so clear and sharp,
that all my senses ring with it.
I feel it now: there’s a power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.

(translation by Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy)

To be touched on the shoulder with the flat of a sword, rather than the cutting edge, is to be symbolically struck as part of the traditional knighting ceremony. perhaps accompanied by a task or quest. This is such a fascinating way to describe how the day itself can touch us, strike us in such a way that we become instantly present, aware, alive. That blow of sudden awareness ennobles us and opens us to new possibilities.

We resonate with the touch. A ringing bell perfectly marks the moment. The sound penetrates our thoughts, yet it carries silence in its wake. We become aware of the space between things, the quiet between our thoughts, inducing stillness and presence, while echoing out to touch all the world. Our whole self begins to sing.

Today, as every day, is a perfect day to ring out like a bell awakened…


Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
More Books >>


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

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

More poetry by Denise Levertov

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Jul 20 2016

Chiao Jan – To Be Shown to the Monks at a Certain Temple

Published by under Poetry

To Be Shown to the Monks at a Certain Temple
by Chiao Jan

English version by J. P. Seaton

Not yet to the shore of nondoing,
it’s silly to be sad you’re not moored yet…
Eastmount’s white clouds say
to keep on moving, even
if it’s evening, even if it’s fall.

— from The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry, Edited by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by Chris-Lamprianidis /

Here in the middle of the week, I thought Chiao Jan should remind us of the goal of “nondoing.”

Not yet to the shore of nondoing,
it’s silly to be sad you’re not moored yet…

To be “moored” implies the boat of the self has arrived at its destination — enlightenment. But what does that have to do with “nondoing”?

Nondoing isn’t so much inactivity; rather, in the midst of action, there is no personal sense of doership. Action takes place through you, but within you are quiet, at ease, a serene witness. Action no longer emerges from the impulses of the ego, and actions do not reinforce the ego. I know this sounds like a concept that only arcane philosophers would care about, but the actual experience is one of delightful, pure flow, as if a layer of grime has finally been washed from your hands. Movement just naturally occurs upon an open field of awareness. Some traditions describe this actionless action as writing on water, the movement occurs but no trace of ego is left behind.

So this is the nondoing Chiao Jan aspires to.

But he is writing this from the perspective of an aging monk who hasn’t quite reached that shore yet.

Eastmount’s white clouds say
to keep on moving, even
if it’s evening, even if it’s fall.

Even though it is evening, even if it is fall, even if the years have gathered in our bones and hang upon our faces, “Eastmount,” the mountain of the east — the direction of sunrise and enlightenment — beckons us onward, and inward. We journey until we arrive.

And Chiao Jan is absolutely right: It is silly to be sad at not yet having arrived. There’s a secret key here, one that’s so easy to overlook in spiritual practice. It’s silly to be sad at being where one is. Think about that for a moment. To wish to be somewhere else, even if that somewhere is enlightenment, is to wish to be somewhere other than where we are. Whereas true enlightenment — and nondoing — are only possible when one is deeply present. It is only by fully being where we are that we then discover our boat has arrived at the shore. It is not by being somewhere else but by being profoundly present that we arrive.


Recommended Books: Chiao Jan

The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry


Chiao Jan

China (730 – 799) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Jul 13 2016

Ojibway (Anonymous) – Sometimes

Published by under Poetry

Sometimes
by Ojibway (Anonymous)

English version by Robert Bly and Frances Densmore

Sometimes I go about pitying myself,
and all the time
I am being carried on great winds across the sky.

— from Art & Wonder: An Illustrated Anthology of Visionary Poetry, Edited by Kate Farrell


/ Image by ahermin /

Usually all it takes is a shift in perspective.

We often feel hurt or angry or sad or just trapped. The common response, particularly in the task-oriented modern era, is to decide what we’re going to do about it. We act, we do, we fix. And, yes, that approach can be essential in many circumstances.

But we need to make sure we don’t ‘do’ as a way to avoid feeling in the first place.

Also we must make sure we don’t ‘do’ as a way to reinforce our limited ideas about our circumstances and our suffering.

The first thing to do, is to not do anything, and, instead, to allow our perspective to shift. See what we see. This is the most potent act possible. Seemingly doing nothing, all of reality changes. The willingness to step aside from our own internal dramas allows us to recognize — and utilize — the great currents already flowing soundlessly through our lives. Then, in harmony with that underlying momentum, when we choose to act, our actions have a potency and purpose that can seem almost magical.

We soar, we dance, we are carried on great winds across the sky.


Recommended Books: Ojibway (Anonymous)

The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions


Ojibway (Anonymous)

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

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Jul 08 2016

Rolf Jacobsen – When They Sleep

Published by under Poetry

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 poudoudoup /

It has been a difficult few weeks in the world, so many terrible things done and said and imagined. So today why not a meditation on the wisdom of 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, another warm, drowsy summer morning. 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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Jul 06 2016

John of the Cross – The Fountain

Published by under Poetry

The Fountain
by John of the Cross

English version by Willis Barnstone

How well I know that flowing spring
      in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen.
How well I know where she has been
      in black of night.

I do not know her origin.
None. Yet in her all things begin
      in black of night.

I know that nothing is so fair
and earth and firmament drink there
      in black of night.

I know that none can wade inside
to find her bright bottomless tide
      in black of night.

Her shining never has a blur;
I know that all light comes from her
      in black of night.

I know her streams converge and swell
and nourish people, skies and hell
      in black of night.

The stream whose birth is in this source
I know has a gigantic force
      in black of night.

The stream from but these two proceeds
yet neither one, I know, precedes
      in black of night.

The eternal fountain is unseen
in living bread that gives us being
      in black of night.

She calls on all mankind to start
to drink her water, though in dark,
      for black is night.

O living fountain that I crave,
in bread of life I see her flame
      in black of night.

— from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone


/ Image by plutonicfluf /

In this poem, John of the Cross is speaking of a secret fountain as if it is a divine, living being — and it is. This isn’t merely a poetic metaphor, it is a description of actual mystical experience rendered into the language of poetry.

Mystics throughout the world and in all traditions describe an awareness of a flowing of water, a water that is alive. Coming into contact with that water, touching it, drinking it, feeling it flow inside you and all around you, quickens a new sense of life within. Everything, yourself included, is suddenly seen as radically alive in a way that could not have been imagined before. It is this water that is the foundational “stuff” of the manifest world, all things are formed of it and exist within it.

Accompanying this is a sense of a rising up and overflowing of energy — a fountain. This is felt as originating in the seat, beginning to spread out in the solar plexus, flowing generously in the heart, and anointing the crown with a glistening light.

John of the Cross refers to this fountain as “she,” equating it with the Holy Spirit in Christian tradition.

And why is this fountain always discovered “in black of night”? Night, the dark night of the soul, is fundamental to the mystical language developed by John of the Cross. One way to understand it is as the disorienting space of initiation, when the awareness has released its identification with material creation, and waits uncertainly for the Divine. Understood this way, the night is the spiritual threshold. It is within this psychic emptiness that we discover the fountain.

PS – Eid Mubarak to all my Muslim friends! I hope this Ramadan was a time of blessings and beauty and renewal.

PPS – My heart breaks for the people of Bangladesh and the world affected by the recent terrible attacks. I have no proper words to express the grief and horror.

PPPS – RIP Elie Wiesel. The world has lost a great soul. May his passing awaken within us all the seeing conscience he so nobly embodied.

May I share with you one of the principles that governs my life? It is the realization that what I receive I must pass on to others. The knowledge that I have acquired must not remain imprisoned in my brain. I owe it to many men and women to do something with it. I feel the need to pay back what was given to me. Call it gratitude.

Isn’t this what education is all about?

There is divine beauty in learning, just as there is human beauty in tolerance. To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you.

~ Elie Wiesel


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 >>


John of the Cross, John of the Cross poetry, Christian poetry John of the Cross

Spain (1542 – 1591) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Jul 01 2016

Mansur al-Hallaj – If They Only Knew

Published by under Poetry

If They Only Knew
by Mansur al-Hallaj

English version by Michael A. Sells

What earth is this
      so in want of you
they rise up on high
      to seek you in heaven?

            Look at them staring
                  at you
            right before their eyes,
                  unseeing, unseeing, blind.
. . .

            I was patient,
                  but can the heart
be patient of
      its heart?

                  My spirit and yours
            blend together
                  whether we are near one another
            or far away.

            I am you,
you,
      my being,
            end of my desire,

      The most intimate of secret thoughts
            enveloped
and fixed along the horizon
      in folds of light.

                  How? The “how” is known
            along the outside,
                  while the interior of beyond
      to and for the heart of being.

      Creatures perish
            in the darkened
blind of quest,
      knowing intimations.

                        Guessing and dreaming
            they pursue the real,
                  faces turned toward the sky
      whispering secrets to the heavens.

            While the lord remains among them
                  in every turn of time
abiding in their every condition
      every instant.

                  Never without him, they,
            not for the blink of an eye —
                  if only they knew!
            nor he for a moment without them.

— from Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality), by Michael A. Sells


/ Image by kayrey18 /

This is a great poem by the Sufi mystic and martyr, al-Hallaj.

A reminder to us all that, wherever we look, we are always staring at the face of God, “right before [our] eyes.” Everyone, knowingly or unknowingly, is always searching for the Eternal, but too easily we become lost in our search. The idea of a search is already to be lost — “a blind quest.” We imagine that the Goal will be found elsewhere, somewhere that we are not, and so we rush about looking, looking. “Guessing and dreaming,” looking for God in some distant heaven instead of beneath our feet and between the span of our arms, we blindly have our “faces turned toward the sky.” But doing that, we never recognize that “the lord remains among [us]” in our “every condition / every instant.” We are never without the Divine Presence, “not for the blink of an eye!”

Hallaj says it very simply, speaking to God as the Beloved who is everywhere and, at the same time, the heart of the heart:

My spirit and yours
blend together
whether we are near one another
or far away.

I am you,
you,
my being,
end of my desire.

And his conclusion:

Never without him, they,
not for the blink of an eye —
if only they knew!
nor he for a moment without them.


Recommended Books: Mansur al- Hallaj

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology
More Books >>


Mansur al- Hallaj

Iran/Persia (9th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jun 29 2016

Truth, Tea, and Poetry

Yesterday’s Istanbul bombing. The Brexit vote. The murder of Amjad Sabri, the Sufi qawwali singer, in Pakistan last week. We could add several things from the American scene to this list. While it is not always the role of the Poetry Chaikhana to dwell on these sorts of events in depth, I do hope my occasional comments inspire serious thought, new perspectives, and deep discussion with those around you.

Poetry, especially sacred poetry, has a way of bringing down barriers and sidestepping dogmas, guiding us to the hidden strands of unity. Sacred poetry reminds us of our shared humanity and our shared divinity.

The poetry of Muslim Sufis and Christian mystics, the songs of shamans and Hindu rishis, of Jewish rebbes and Zen Roshis — these outpourings from the enlightened heart heal the world in ways that politics and social institutions were never designed for. The right word moves from the heart to the tongue to touch a new heart, and so quietly spreads through the world. An elegant formulation of thought and feeling and breath, the poetic word is itself utterly insubstantial, a phantasm, yet somehow alive with truth and beauty… and the recognition of the underlying unity we all are part of. And so poetry, in its quiet way, flows on hidden currents through humanity, unaffected by borders or bullets.

I believe poetry, sacred poetry, is essential to the healing of this suffering world.

The Poetry Chaikhana seeks to honor the way the mystic’s ecstatic insight flows naturally into poetic utterance, doing away with all the dogma and internecine sectarian squabbling. This idea was central to my decision years ago to call this site a “chaikhana.”

Chaikhana

I often get asked what a “chaikhana” is. The short answer is that it is a tea house (chai = tea). The inevitable second question is, why a “poetry chaikhana”? What does poetry, especially sacred poetry, have to do with tea? The act of sipping tea naturally has a contemplative quality to it, but there’s a deeper reason why I chose the name Poetry Chaikhana all those years ago. I was inspired by a Sufi story–


/ Photo by Doubtful-Della /

The Story of Tea

In ancient times, tea was not known outside China. Rumours of its existence had reached the wise and the unwise of other countries, and each tried to find out what it was in accordance with what he wanted or what he thought it should be.

The King of Inja (‘here’) sent an embassy to China, and they were given tea by the Chinese Emperor. But, since they saw that the peasants drank it too, they concluded that it was not fit for their royal master: and, furthermore, that the Chinese Emperor was trying to deceive them, passing off some other substance for the celestial drink.

The greatest philosopher of Anja (‘there’) collected all the information he could about tea, and concluded that it must be a substance which existed but rarely, and was of another order than anything then known. For was it not referred to as being an herb, a water, green, black, sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet?

In the countries of Koshish and Bebinem, for centuries the people tested all the herbs they could find. Many were poisoned, all were disappointed. For nobody had brought the tea-plant to their lands, and thus they could not find it. They also drank all the liquids which they could find, but to no avail.

In the territory of Mazhab (‘Sectarianism’) a small bag of tea was carried in procession before the people as they went on their religious observances. Nobody thought of tasting it: indeed, nobody knew how. All were convinced that the tea itself had a magical quality. A wise man said: ‘Pour upon it boiling water, ye ignorant ones!’ They hanged him and nailed him up, because to do this, according to their belief, would mean the destruction of their tea. This showed that he was an enemy of their religion.

Before he died, he had told his secret to a few, and they managed to obtain some tea and drink it secretly. When anyone said: ‘What are you doing?’ they answered: ‘It is but medicine which we take for a certain disease.’

And so it was throughout the world. Tea had actually been seen growing by some, who did not recognize it. It had been given to others to drink, but they thought it the beverage of the common people. It had been in the possession of others, and they worshipped it. Outside China, only a few people actually drank it, and those covertly.

Then came a man of knowledge, who said to the merchants of tea, and the drinkers of tea, and to others: ‘He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not, knows not. Instead of talking about the celestial beverage, say nothing, but offer it at your banquets. Those who like it will ask for more. Those who do not, will show that they are not fitted to be tea-drinkers. Close the shop of argument and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.’

The tea was brought from one stage to another along the Silk Road, and whenever a merchant carrying jade or gems or silk would pause to rest, he would make tea, and offer it to such people as were near him, whether they were aware of the repute of tea or not. This was the beginning of the Chaikhanas, the teahouses which were established all the way from Peking to Bokhara and Samarkand. And those who tasted, knew.

At first, mark well, it was only the great and the pretended men of wisdom who sought the celestial drink and who also exclaimed: ‘But this is only dried leaves!’ or: ‘Why do you boil water, stranger, when all I want is the celestial drink?’, or yet again: ‘How do I know that this is? Prove it to me. Besides the colour of the liquid is not golden, but ochre!’

When the truth was known, and when the tea was brought for all who would taste, the roles were reversed, and the only people who said things like the great and intelligent had said were the absolute fools. And such is the case to this day.

– Ayn al-Qozat Hamadani (1098 – 1131)

Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching Stories of the Sufi Masters over the Past Thousand Years
by Idries Shah

I hope the poems and thoughts I share through the Poetry Chaikhana bring a taste of that essential truth to your lips. This deep truth is loving and accepting, utterly unthreatened by the multiplicity of ideas, ancient and modern, that so threaten the rigid-minded. This truth permeates and enlivens the best of our notions and aspirations without being limited by them. And when a line of sacred poetry entrances us with its beauty, we have caught a holy glimpse of that truth, which is nothing less than the eternal Face of the Beloved, ever smiling just beneath the surface, drawing our spirits deeper, deeper into understanding, deeper into truth, deeper into compassion and connection.

Truth, tea… and poetry. Chaikhana.

He who tastes, knows. He who tastes not, knows not… Close the shop of argument and mystery. Open the teahouse of experience.

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Jun 24 2016

Rabindranath Tagore – In one salutation to thee

Published by under Poetry

(103) In one salutation to thee, my God (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

In one salutation to thee, my God, let all my senses spread out and touch this world at thy feet.
      Like a rain-cloud of July hung low with its burden of unshed showers let all my mind bend down at thy door in one salutation to thee.
      Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.
      Like a flock of homesick cranes flying night and day back to their mountain nests let all my life take its voyage to its eternal home in one salutation to thee.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by Muffet /

What a lovely outpouring of the heart to God by the great Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

Imagine the courage it takes for a poet, a singer of songs, to say, “Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.”

When a poet wants fame, he wants each line to make a great noise and proclaim his name. But when a poet is truly great, he wants each strain to lead to silence, the lines washing away all noise, even the voice of the poet himself!

That is the way, the only real form of prayer: One all-encompasing salutation to the Divine that leaves us utterly empty of self, that leaves us standing in spaciousness and silence. Such a pure yielding turns all of life into a voyage that continuously returns us to our eternal home.

In one salutation…


Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>


Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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