Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Nov 26 2019

Basho – snow-viewing

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Come, let’s go
by Matsuo Basho

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Come, let’s go
snow-viewing
till we’re buried.

— from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto


/ Image by dadofliz /

I am sitting here at my computer reading poetry in snow boots. I just came in from shoveling the sidewalk. It looks like we might get two feet of snow today.

My car is in the shop and probably needs to be replaced. After 15 years of loyal service, it died on the road just as the first snowflakes started falling yesterday. In the space of a few blocks of driving it went from running fine, to making a strange noise, to completely dying. I had to jog half a mile in the snow to my home because I don’t have a cell phone, call a tow truck, and then watch as our car got hoisted up on the truck bed, and ride with it to the repair shop.

Rather than going into anxiety about the whole situation in the midst of the increasing snow, I found myself… dare I say it?… content. Even entertained. Accepting the situation for what it is, I rode along with the events. It became a sort of adventure.

I’m being told that it’s probably not worth the cost of repairs at this point, so in a few days, when we dig ourselves out, I will be shopping for another car.

A longtime car becomes a sort of family member, like a pet or trusted workhorse. Some people may feel it’s silly, but I’m fond of that old car and there is a bit of sadness at saying goodbye. I hope to adopt a new wheeled family member who becomes just as much of a friend.

Thankfully, past chronic fatigue patterns have been in abeyance for most of the past year, so I have been working more hours at my day job and I have a small amount saved that can now be used as a down payment for our next car.

When events just happen and there is no avoiding their cascading onslaught, sometimes the best option is just to grow still, enjoy the scene, and laugh as we are buried.

So, with no car at the moment and nearly two feet of snow on the ground and with more snow falling, it is a good day to pause and go snow-viewing…

That phrase “snow-viewing” may seem rather odd, if poetic, but it is actually a playful twist on the Japanese practice of tsukimi or moon-viewing. In Japan, there is a tradition of moon-viewing in autumn. Towns have moon-viewing festivals, a family might invite friends over for moon-viewing. To me, as an outsider, that sounds like a beautiful way for all of society to slow down and appreciate the masterful artwork of nature, communing with the rhythms of the world. Basho’s snow-viewing is an expansion of that idea — inviting a friend to step outside in order to appreciate the beauty of a recent snowfall in quiet companionship and shared ritual.

Particularly the Zen poetry, snow often carries with it the suggestion of deeper meanings we might want to explore.

When the difficulties and coldness and enforced internalization of winter are emphasized, snow can represent the struggles of spiritual practice that precede the spiritual awakening of spring.

When the silence that settles of the world bathed in snow is emphasized, it can represent the perfect stillness of mind that occurs in true meditation.

When the quality of blanketing all things in a uniform whiteness is highlighted, snow can be seen as an allusion to the unifying white or golden-white light that shines through everything, the light one perceives when the mind awakens.

This haiku by Basho can carry variations of all of these meanings, but especially the last one.

Notice the joke in these lines: By viewing the snow we become buried in it — and that is what Basho is really inviting us to do. With a lot of snow (and a dash of wit), Basho might be saying that by viewing something deeply, we become the beauty we perceive. Seeing the universal radiance, we become the radiance. Hearing the silence, we become the silence. Witness the eternal, and we become consumed by it, the ego self becomes lost in the blanket of white that covers everything, making all of existence one.

Have a beautiful day, with or without snow! And be warm and safe!


Recommended Books: Matsuo Basho

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku
More Books >>


Matsuo Basho, Matsuo Basho poetry, Buddhist poetry Matsuo Basho

Japan (1644 – 1694) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Nov 22 2019

Guru Nanak – From listening (Japji 8)

Published by under Poetry

[Japji 8] From listening
by Guru Nanak

English version by John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer

From listening,
      Siddhas, Pirs, Gods, Naths–
      the spiritually adept;

From listening,
      the earth, its white foundation,
      and the sky;

From listening,
      continents, worlds, hells;

From listening,
      death cannot approach.

Nanak says,
      those who hear
            flower forever.

From listening,
      sin and sorrow
      disappear.

— from Songs of the Saints of India, Translated by John Stratton Hawley / Translated by Mark Juergensmeyer

A song for us today by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh tradition, about listening.

From listening…

Listening is a powerful practice on several levels. On one level, listening is the act of paying attention in an open and receptive manner. When we really pay attention we do more than notice people and things, we connect with them, we commune with them. Through open, engaged attention we become one with the world around us.

In this way, through deep listening, everything is found to be within us, and we exist within the all. The awareness of mutual being emerges.

But there is another, specific meaning of listening intended here, as well. Guru Nanak is also clearly giving a teaching on listening to the fundamental sound of creation, In various Indian traditions this primal sound is called shabd or Omkara/Onkar.

When the attention is turned inward a soft sound is heard. At first it might be like the quiet chirping of crickets in the night, the hum of beesong, or the flowing of a gentle stream. It is heard as a random, soothing “white noise” that seems to emanate from the base of the skull. When focused upon with a still mind and deep attention, this sound resolves into a clearer pitch that can resemble the pure note of a flute (Krishna’s flute in Vaishnava tradition) or the ringing of a bell (the bells of paradise in esoteric Christianity). First it is heard and, finally, felt throughout the body.

Many mystics compare this sound with the sound of a waterfall, and as the awareness bathes in this sound it becomes purified, “cleansed.” The heart is like a moss-covered stone at the foot of the waterfall. The more we allow the sounding waters to flow, that encrustation on the heart is cleared away. We may just be shocked to discover what we thought was granite beneath is a actually a great jewel, brilliant and emanating pure bliss.

The heart’s joy is always there, we just need to clear away the moss.

From listening,
      Siddhas, Pirs, Gods, Naths–
      the spiritually adept

Guru Nanak lists various names for adepts and the enlightened. This sound is the doorway into states of spiritual attainment.

Hearing the omkara signals the beginning of deep meditation. It is the tone of initiation. The more we open to the sound, the more the attention is drawn heavenward while the divine flow pours through us.

From listening,
      the earth, its white foundation,
      and the sky

Why does Guru Nanak link the earth and the sky to this sound? It is through this sound, this wordless Word, that all of manifest existence comes into being. This is the vibratory breath of the Eternal that sings creation into form. The earth and the sky and every being that moves between them are born through this sound. This sacred tone moves through existence, reifying all.

Why does Guru Nanak give us this curious statement about the “white foundation” of the earth? I suspect he is referencing the white or golden-white light that is witnessed in the deepest states. This light is perceived as underlying and supporting all of creation — its foundation.

From listening,
      death cannot approach.

By following this sound we recollect our nature and ultimately return to the source of the song. We come to know ourselves in our essence, and lessen our identification our physical form and social roles. Death does not affect who and what we truly are. We discover this by listening.

Nanak says,
      those who hear
            flower forever.

Omkara is the sound of the movement of the divine through us. Hearing that sound, allowing it to flow generously through us, we open in unexpected and delightful ways. It is the flow of sap that inspires us to blossom into our full potential.

From listening,
      sin and sorrow
      disappear.

Hearing this, what is there to fear? We don’t have to convince ourselves of this, it just is. Listening to this constant reassuring presence, the psychic constrictions we carry with us naturally ease. The waterfall bathes us, the heart clears. We become simply and honestly who we are — and what a beautiful being that is!

From listening…

==

Coming Soon: Haiku Enlightenment

Several of you sent me some beautiful messages and comments after last week’s poem. I have read them all and been touched by your stories. The reason I haven’t responded directly is that I have been deeply engaged in the preparation of the Poetry Chaikhana’s newest publication — Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock. You may recognize him from poems I have featured on the Poetry Chaikhana before. Gabriel Rosenstock is an Irish sage, a bit of a prankster… oh yes, and a renowned poet. This new book is a rich, wise and playful exploration of the art of haiku by a western master of haiku. I am so pleased to be able to offer this book through the Poetry Chaikhana.

With my limited personal time, I have to be selective about each new book project I work on. In the past I had imagined publishing a series of poetry collections or anthologies by contemporary spiritual poets and mystics, which I may still do in the future, but I realized that poetry on its own is not the primary focus of the Poetry Chaikhana. The heart of the Poetry Chaikhana is poetry paired with conversational commentary that opens up the poetry as well as encourages new avenues of spiritual exploration. Gabriel Rosenstock’s Haiku Enlightenment is a perfect fit for the Poetry Chaikhana. It is a delightful collection of brief observations that use haiku to explore ideas about creativity, perception, consciousness, and being alive to the moment.

For some of you, the title Haiku Enlightenment may sound familiar. This is actually not the first edition, but a greatly expanded new edition. A much smaller hardback edition of Haiku Enlightenment was published about ten years ago. I immediately recognized that original edition as a small masterpiece, but I was concerned that it hadn’t garnered the attention it deserved and, within a few years, it was in danger of disappearing, That old edition has become so difficult to find in many areas that just a few days ago I noticed it selling on the US Amazon site for more than $1,000!

Rest assured that you will be able to get the Poetry Chaikhana’s new expanded edition for a much more affordable rate of $16.95/£12.95/€14.25. Our new edition of Haiku Enlightenment includes an updated version of that original small volume, along with another short companion book previously published as Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing and several new sections not previously published, all gathered together in a single volume.

In publishing this new expanded edition of Haiku Enlightenment I hope to make Gabriel Rosenstock’s poetic and spiritual insights available to a much wider audience who may have missed the earlier editions. I also want to make sure that it remains available at an affordable price for future readers.

I will be enthusiastically recommending this book to aspiring poets, artists, readers of haiku — and creative seekers of all types.

Haiku Enlightenment will be available mid-December. I hope it will make a good gift for the person in your life who loves haiku, creativity, and discovering the unexpected along their own spiritual pathway. Perhaps that person is you.


Recommended Books: Guru Nanak

Songs of the Saints of India The Mystic in Love: A Treasury of Mystical Poetry The Guru Granth Sahib: CAnon, Meaning and Authority Sri Guru Granth Sahib Discovered: A Reference Book of Quotations Sri Guru Granth Sahib
More Books >>


Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak poetry, Sikh poetry Guru Nanak

Pakistan/India (1469 – 1539) Timeline
Sikh

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Nov 15 2019

Yoka Genkaku – The virtue of abusive words

Published by under Poetry

When I consider the virtue of abusive words (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

When I consider the virtue of abusive words,
I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.
If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.
To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression,
And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.
Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the same way.


/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

This opening line is meant to be humorous. I picture the Buddhist monks of China and Japan laughing as they read this short poetic discourse on “the virtue of abusive words.”

But the poet is also saying something very important to the sincere spiritual aspirant.

I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.

People who offend us, who spread rumors and lies, those we might think of as enemies or petty tyrants are sometimes our best teachers. They continuously pressure test the maturity of our practice.

It is easy to go along thinking, ‘Oh, my meditation is getting so deep and I think such kind thoughts about people,’ but when someone offends that carefully constructed spiritual facade, do we instantly boil over with outrage? Does it suddenly become essential that we correct their false perception of us?

No matter how offensive or cruel the other person may be acting, our reaction is about ego. Are we getting proper acknowledgment for who we are and what we have accomplished? -Which is a question only the ego asks.

The poet then says something especially interesting:

If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.

All of that spiritual practice we do to endure upset and hold our thoughts safely within the bounds of compassion, it is all really about making the mind spiritually acceptable in its patterns. That certainly has its importance, but it is ultimately a path of frustration. The mind that emerges from the ego-self is never tamed, it is always selfish and me-focused, always quick to anger in order to reassert itself as the center of importance.

If we truly learn to let go of all of our pretense and self-importance, however, the instinct to get upset at everything, including what is malicious, falls away. And then there is no need to work so hard at enduring offense or somehow squeezing compassion from a constricted heart. Endurance becomes natural patience with the world. And compassion is simply recognized as inherent within the universe and not the result of our own heavy effort.

To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression

When we have truly matured in our awakening, when we have allowed the endless tensions that comprise the ego-self to fall away, along with its tendencies toward offense, then our expression becomes natural, fluid, without effort.

And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.

Dhyana is meditation, and prajna can be translated as clarity. When we become mature in our practice and realization, we are flooded with a brilliant light that is often compared with the full moon.

When our practice is too much about effort and harsh control, there is the tendency to stagnate, to get caught up in our patterns of policing everything about our thoughts and actions. A certain amount of that approach is an important discipline, but we can’t make the mistake of becoming totalitarian toward our own psychic energies. The goal is not greater or more perfect effort but, instead, to become effortless, to drop the self-important, self-focused self and, with supreme humility, settle into our true nature — from which our inherent compassion and goodness naturally flow.

Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the same way.

So you see, those people who irritate us, who offend us, even those who attack us, they should be among our most cherished teachers. They poke holes in the ego. They deflate our pretenses. They passionately remind us that we are not the psychic facades with which we wrap ourselves. They test us with an intensity missing from other teachers. They show us the pathway to selflessness and, thus, are highly charged agents of enlightenment.

(Caveat: I don’t want to suggest that one should passively accept cruelty or violence or remain in the presence people caught up in toxic patterns. The point here is to recognize what in ourselves we are defending. Personal safety and basic self-value are important and should be protected. But when it is our own self-importance that feels threatened, perhaps it is an opportunity to laugh at ourselves instead.)

Praise to those who irritate us! (Grumble.)


Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Buddhism and Zen


Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

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

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Nov 08 2019

Mary Oliver – Yes! No!

Published by under Poetry

Yes! No!
by Mary Oliver

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

— from White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by Thomas Mueller /

There is so much I like about this poem.

I’m not so certain myself how necessary it is to have opinions. Perhaps Mary Oliver’s opinions and her Yesses and Noes are really about being present with intentionality, making a choice to be there. I think she is saying something about entering the world with awareness.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out


Yes! No!

And that’s what I really like about the poem, the sense that the supreme act of a conscious being is to be aware, and to be here, alive and quiet in the undefined moment.

The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond.

The “nameless pond.” To that, I definitely say, Yes! That single phrase nails me to the spot each time I read it. The thinking mind reflexively wants to name everything it sees, and in naming it, claiming it, defining it. Labeling a thing or place, we then think we have seen it, and so ignore it in order to move on to the next thing to be named. Naming is a way of protecting ourselves from direct encounter.

What is it like to encounter a pond with no name? Not even called “pond”? A landscape without labels is wide open, mysterious, and magical. The swan glides through that world every day and needs no names to make it real. In some sense, naming the pond diminishes it, even for the swan, since it has then been claimed as human territory. This is why we need those wild places, unnamed spaces, where the swan can float and the thrush can dance in the unfenced mystery. Where we, wild seekers, can wander in wordless witness.

To live within the undefined moment, within an unnamed landscape, requires a powerful will, choosing to resist the socially trained reflex to label and categorize everything and, thus, not really encounter any of it. To simply be requires one to be a rebel. Rather than going along unconsciously with what we have been taught, we must say either Yes! or No! so we can then actually experience this mysterious life revealing itself to us in every moment.

To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

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


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

US (1935 – 2019) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Nov 01 2019

Dionysius the Areopagite – Lead us up beyond light

Published by under Poetry

Lead us up beyond light
by Dionysius the Areopagite

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Lead us up beyond light,
beyond knowing and unknowing,
to the topmost summit of truth,

where the mysteries lie hidden,
unchanging and absolute,
in the dazzling darkness
of the secret silence.
All light is outshined
by the intensity of their shade.

The senses are flooded, the mind made blind
by such unseen beauty
beyond all beauty.

— from This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by Sudhamshu /

You may not be familiar with them, but these lines are hugely important in the history of Western mysticism and spirituality. Virtually all European esoteric traditions have drawn inspiration and meaning from them. So take a moment to reread them and consider what is being said and why Western mystics have been inspired by them through the centuries.

In particular, that phrase about the “dazzling darkness,” like a Christian koan, is contemplated endlessly and keeps reappearing in esoteric writings.

Dionysius is saying something about knowledge and the limitations of knowledge, using the metaphor of light and darkness.

Lead us up beyond light,
beyond knowing and unknowing,
to the topmost summit of truth…

We might say that intellectual knowledge is knowledge dependent on things being visible, in the light. But clearly Dionysius feels that such knowledge does not attain the “topmost summit of truth.”

There is another level of knowing, deeper, more obscure, yet all-encompassing. This is the knowledge sought by the mystic. This is the knowledge found within deep inner silence. This is the knowledge that connects us with genuine truth. Amidst this darkness, the truth shines.

…where the mysteries lie hidden,
unchanging and absolute,
in the dazzling darkness
of the secret silence.

But this language of darkness and blindness and unknowing as descriptions of this ultimate knowledge is more than evocative metaphor and playful contradiction.

That wonderful phrase, the “dazzling darkness,” is a reference to a very real state of awareness experienced in deep communion when the mind has settled completely into stillness and no longer projects a conceptual overlay upon reality.

We can even say that seeing in the normal sense stops, while perception opens as if for the first time. A person is no longer seen as a person, a table is no longer seen as a table. Surfaces and categories — the foundation of mundane perception — become ephemeral, dreamlike, insubstantial. One stops witnessing the surface level of reality in the common sense, and this can be compared to blindness or darkness. Yet everything shines! Everything is seen to be radiant with a living interpenetrating light. And the same light shines in everything.

This is the dazzling darkness of Dionysius. This is why many mystics assert they no longer even see the world and, instead, only see God. It is not that they bump into furniture when they walk across a room; perception on the mundane level doesn’t stop (except in the most ecstatic states), but surfaces take on a thin or unreal quality; it only occupies a minimal level of the awareness. It is as if the world everyone always assumes to be the real world, the visible world, is actually a world of shadow, but underlying that is an unseen world of brilliance and indescribably beauty.

Our senses are flooded, our minds blinded
by such unseen beauty
beyond all beauty.

This is the dazzling darkness sought by mystics throughout the ages.

=

Speaking of darkness, it is the time of Halloween, Samhain in Celtic tradition, el Dia de los Muertos.

As a child, Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays. I loved the masks and costumes, toying with my identity, hiding behind what is seen. I loved the time of year, the chill breeze and thick sweaters, bare branches with a few bright leaves, the blue daylight illuminating it all. And, I have to admit, I loved the giddy, creeping sense of death… and the implied question of what lay beyond. Spirits, magic, monsters, and nighttime, they evoked in me a childish delight in the sense that there was something more to the world, something hidden, secret, another reality in the shadows. I felt the holiday tugging at me, my goosebumps an invitation into the unknown…

This is considered to be a time of year when the veil between this world and the Otherworld thins, when we can reconnect with the spirits of our ancestors, when can gain unexpected insight. It is a time of magic and reconnection and stepping into the unknown.

This is the time of year (in the northern hemisphere) when the light of summer and the harvest season recedes, the days grow shorter, and the darkness of winter takes ascendance. This is the good darkness that balances the year. With darker, shorter, colder days, we are less active and turn inward. It is a time that reminds us to return to the dark cave of home and self. It is in this internal, inturning time that we gain insight and strength and, through endurance, find ourselves renewed and ready for the new light to come in springtime. This darkness is the time of spiritual practice that prepares us for the renewed light and life of springtime. For only in darkness does new life gestate. Only in darkness do our eyes learn to see.

So let’s celebrate those who came before us and made a way for us in the world. Let’s celebrate the infinitely unknown possibilities yet available to us. And let’s celebrate the good darkness — and the light and life we discover there!


Recommended Books: Dionysius the Areopagite

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages


Dionysius the Areopagite, Dionysius the Areopagite poetry, Christian poetry Dionysius the Areopagite

Syria (6th Century) Timeline
Christian

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Oct 25 2019

Shiwu (Stonehouse) – Outside the door I made but don’t close

Published by under Poetry

Outside the door I made but don’t close
by Shiwu (Stonehouse)

English version by Red Pine

Outside the door I made but don’t close
I glimpse the movements of unfamiliar birds
a handful of jade is worth a whole mountain
but gold can’t buy a lifetime of freedom
the sound of icy falls on a dawnlit snowy ridge
the sight of distant peaks through leafless autumn woods
mist lifts from ancient cedars and days last forever
right and wrong don’t get past the clouds

— from The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit, Translated by Red Pine


/ Image by Michael Levine-Clark /

This poem feels to me like a Chinese brush painting, specific details observed suggesting a panoramic landscape, yet when we try to enter the scene it becomes ephemeral and slightly elusive.

Outside the door I made but don’t close
I glimpse the movements of unfamiliar birds

That opening line about a door the poet made but does not close, I skimmed past it the first few times I read this poem, but now it grabs my attention. I love the idea of having gone to all the effort of constructing a door and then never using it because you always want it open so you can see and hear the outside world, so no barrier is created between inside and outside.

a handful of jade is worth a whole mountain
but gold can’t buy a lifetime of freedom

Two lines to contemplate and dismiss the dilemmas of wealth. People tend to commodify all of existence, placing a price tag on every experience and thing and even other people. A handful of jade is enough to buy an entire mountain. Who says that’s what a mountain is worth? Or what jade is worth? Exchanging that jade for the pretense of owning that mountain, what do we then have? What has changed for us? Can we breathe easier? Are we more free? The game of money might be worth playing, or not, but it is not the game of freedom.

the sound of icy falls on a dawnlit snowy ridge
the sight of distant peaks through leafless autumn woods

Freedom is found through other mediums of exchange, usually involving stillness, attention, compassion — and harmony with the living world all around us.

mist lifts from ancient cedars and days last forever
right and wrong don’t get past the clouds

Real freedom carries the flavor of timelessness. The world continues in its rhythms, of course, and the serial unfolding of events does not stop, but the rush of time ceases to drive them. It becomes as if one is simply watching the flow of a gentle creek; movement occurs, but it is a serene unfolding within a larger scene of rest.

When we discover this timeless place, when we find ourselves at peace in the midst of the serene beauty surrounding us, when there is no sense of “I and mine” driving the moment, where then are “right” and “wrong”? Ideas of this and not that cannot approach the open field of what is.

Let’s try to leave those doors we’ve made ajar today. Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Shiwu (Stonehouse)

The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit


Shiwu (Stonehouse)

China (1272 – 1352) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Oct 18 2019

Buson – This cold winter night

Published by under Poetry

This cold winter night
by Buson

English version by Sam Hamill

This cold winter night,
that old wooden-head Buddha
would make a nice fire

— from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by thanapat /

Chilly weather this morning. Makes a person cast about for a source of warmth… Hmm…

Every time I come across this haiku it makes me laugh. It works beautifully on several levels and can suggest almost opposite meanings. Superficially, we are contemplating an act of sacrilegious vandalism — hungrily looking at a large wooden Buddha head, perhaps it is neglected or fallen, and fantasizing about setting it on fire for a little comfort. On the other hand, the head engulfed in flames is a common image in Asian iconography to represent enlightenment, a variation on the nimbus or halo — so the haiku can just as easily be saying something about warming oneself through spiritual illumination.

The haiku shocks, it even offends, at the same time that it inspires awakening — a masterful joke!


Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Oct 16 2019

Farid ud-Din Attar – The moths and the flame

Published by under Poetry

The moths and the flame
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light,
And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.
One flew till in the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned —
And went no nearer: back again he flew
To tell the others what he thought he knew.
The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,
Remarking: “He knows nothing of the flame.”
A moth more eager than the one before
Set out and passed beyond the palace door.
He hovered in the aura of the fire,
A trembling blur of timorous desire,
Then headed back to say how far he’d been,
And how much he had undergone and seen.
The mentor said: “You do not bear the signs
Of one who’s fathomed how the candle shines.”
Another moth flew out — his dizzy flight
Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;
He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance
Both self and fire were mingled by his dance —
The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head,
His being glowed a fierce translucent red;
And when the mentor saw that sudden blaze,
The moth’s form lost within the glowing rays,
He said: “He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind,
And you can never gain the longed-for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
Will drag you back and plunge you in despair —
No creature’s self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.

— from The Conference of the Birds, Translated by Afkham Darbandi / Translated by Dick Davis


/ Image by ruslik /

I don’t feature selections from it often enough, but Attar’s Mantic at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds) is a long-time favorite of mine. The English language version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis is good, but I still hope to read a truly great English translation someday.

This version maintains the two-line rhyme scheme. So read it out loud and feel the play of the rhyming couplets. Some are, admittedly, forced in English translation, but they bring a playfulness to the piece.

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light…

This is really a story in poetic form, an expansion on the ancient spiritual metaphor of the moth and the flame. We have a small community of moths gathered together at night. One moth flies off, sees a palace with a candle burning in the window. The moth returns and tells the other moths of the wondrous sight he has just witnessed. The “mentor of the moths” (the sheikh, their spiritual leader) states flatly, “He knows nothing of the flame.”

Another moth flies out to see the candle, flies close enough to feel the heat and the strange fluttering desire it awakens in him, and returns. Again, the mentor moth says that he clearly hasn’t understood the nature of the flame.

Finally, a moth truly overcome with love for the flame flies right into it, merges with it, and is utterly consumed. The leader of the moths approvingly says that one knows the truth.

So many things we can understand from this image. The flame, of course, is God, the Eternal One. And the moths are individual souls, spiritual seekers, lovers of God. We are the moths.

Attar is reminding us of one of the core truths only mystics seem to remember: It is not enough to think about God, or theorize about God, or pray to God, or read about God, or subscribe to the right faith in God, or even catch glimpses of God. Regardless of one’s religion or rectitude, the Divine is only ever known through direct encounter. Even the word “encounter” implies two who meet. No, the moth knows the real truth, light is known only through merging with it, and in merging, letting go of any sense of self that is separate. In this encounter there are not two, just one.

The only way to know is to be so enamored with that fiery, entrancing Beauty that we recklessly abandon the nafs, the little self, in order to merge with that dancing light.

That fluttering, moth-like self we all think we are — it has no substance anyway. The flame teaches us this.

Words fail, concepts fail, but we come to know in a greater, deeper way when we allow ourselves to be consumed.

“He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”


Recommended Books: Farid ud-Din Attar

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Conference of the Birds
More Books >>


Farid ud-Din Attar, Farid ud-Din Attar poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Farid ud-Din Attar

Iran/Persia (1120? – 1220?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 07 2019

Theodore Roethke – In a Dark Time

Published by under Poetry

In a Dark Time
by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood —
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks — is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is —
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.


Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

— from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, by Theodore Roethke


/ Image by iNeedChemicalX /

Over the weekend I came across the following article:

“Emergency Poet” Opens Literary Pharmacy to Support Mental Health

Keele University in the UK has decided to open up what they are calling a “poetry pharmacy” to issue poetic therapy and first aid. They’ve set it up so you can move through rooms based on your particular need, everything from affairs of the heart to when the world is just too much.

I love this idea! We need a poetic first aid center in every community. I suppose, in my way, I try to do that with the Poetry Chaikhana.

If this idea intrigues you, an excellent book to read on the healing power of poetry is Poetic Medicine, by John Fox.

Thinking about poetry as medicine brought to mind this poem by Theodore Roethke…

This poem by Roethke is one of those poems to keep close in difficult times.

In a dark time, the eye begins to see

The struggle against despair, disorientation, darkness. The solitary individual lost in a lost world. We have all been there at some point in our lives. Deep seekers have a particular tendency to travel through those shadowed spaces.

I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.

That despair is often a deep-seated sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the human world presented to us. It can feel uncaring, limited, violent, broken, and incomplete. In other words, it is a place that does not accept the individual as he or she is. To operate in the human world, we are forced into games of pretense and self-disguise. It is a feeling of homelessness and isolation.

What does one do when the soul is at odds with circumstance? It creates a terrible crisis. As social creatures, we align with the group mind, often without awareness or consent. The more naturally we do this, the better we fit into society and exist in the human world. But what about the eccentrics and visionaries, those who resist that psychic pull in order to answer the soul’s need to be itself and see beyond social artifice?

The edge is what I have.

They tend to dwell at the edges. That is where both danger and possibility are found. There we gain the possibility of seeing clearly for the first time, witnessing reality as a complete and self-fulfilled individual.

But the danger is very real, as well. No longer relying on socially constructed reality as our boundary we also lose our safe landmarks. The psyche becomes disoriented and fragile.

To navigate this dark and uncertain territory, the seeker and the artist must cultivate a highly refined inner sense of balance and discipline. This is an important reason for developing a vigorous spiritual practice. Without the necessary inner solidity, the tendency is to rely on dangerous crutches, like excessive drinking and drug use — a terrible problem for so many creative non-conformists.

Think of it this way: The normal consensus reality is like the rigid shell of an egg. It does an excellent job of safely containing the still-forming individual, giving protection from exposure to the unknown outside reality. But, if the individual remains within that shell forever, the soul never experiences the fullness of life. Through spiritual practice, one awakens the fire of life and takes on inner solidity not dependent on outer containment. At that point, the shell has become too confining and we break free into the open air, cracking the shell but without fragmenting the self. Spiritual practice and deepening self-awareness gives us the inner solidity needed to encounter the new world.

…Those dark periods we experience, they do actually serve a purpose, awakening clarity of vision and a compassionate heart. When we feel most vulnerable and lost, we are often going through our greatest growth and transformation, readying for the blaze of light.

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

We must learn to work deeply amidst the darkness. We discover who we really are, slowly emerging from the shadows, for that is our stable landmark when all else shifts about.

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

=

Which poem do you keep close in your poetic medicine cabinet? What gives you comfort, clarity, or courage? Let me know.

Sending love.


Recommended Books: Theodore Roethke

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems On Poetry and Craft The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke
More Books >>


Theodore Roethke, Theodore Roethke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Theodore Roethke

US (1908 – 1963) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Oct 04 2019

William Butler Yeats – The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Published by under Poetry

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
by William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

— from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, by William Butler Yeats


/ Image by hideraldo dwight leitao /

Something for us today by that seeker/sage/bard/mage Yeats — a portrait of peace.

I love the rhythms of this poem. To really appreciate it, you need to say it aloud and slowly. Let it roll off the tongue.

Yeats paints with his words, running them together like brushstrokes in watercolor.

…the bee-loud glade.


…And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, .

In the beauty of this rustic scene, we discover stillness, something of the eternal in the sound of the water lapping at the shore and the mesmerizing hum of bees.

Listening well, we discover the one who listens. We discover “the deep heart’s core.”


Recommended Books: William Butler Yeats

The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Holy Fire: Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats Byzantium The Secret Rose
More Books >>


William Butler Yeats, William Butler Yeats poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Butler Yeats

Ireland (1865 – 1939) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : Celtic

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Sep 30 2019

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Published by under Poetry

The Thirsty
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Not only do the thirsty seek water,
The water too thirsts for the thirsty.

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


/ Image by sergis blog /

I thought I’d follow up on Friday’s poem with this short piece by Rumi continuing the theme of thirst…

Not only do the thirsty seek water

As I grow older, the idea of spiritual thirst becomes ever more real to me. As a young seeker, in my adolescence and early adulthood, I was consumed by such painful blind thirst that I couldn’t have named it “thirst” back then. It was simply the searing ache of my days. It was my whole world.

I went a little mad with my thirst. I kept seeking to withdraw, from society, from the world, retreating into the forests of Oregon, the mountains of Colorado, the jungles of Hawaii where perhaps I might glimpse what was truly essential. I fasted my body into emaciation. I meditated in caves. I walked barefoot and shirtless in the wilds. I spoke with drifters and the homeless, trying to know their hearts and see through their eyes.

Some part of me broke, I think. And then it broke open. That’s when I knew what it meant to drink and no longer thirst.

And a strange thing– what had felt like shattering effort driven by wild thirst suddenly seemed like nothing at all.

The water too thirsts for the thirsty.

Perhaps it wasn’t my terrible thirst that had driven me at all. Perhaps I was drawn by the water’s thirst for me. And all that strain and adventure, well, that was just the story I told myself along the way.

What has been most odd to me is my return to society since then. I made a conscious choice to come in from the wilderness, to rejoin the world, to hold a regular job, have a stable home, and reconnect with people (and try to share a taste of that sweet water with others). More than a decade later, it still feels strange to me. At times I find myself going through the motions, simply passing as a “normal” person. The challenges of daily life, of paying bills, of caring about my body’s health, of establishing regular patterns others can rely on, these practices still seem foreign to me at times, but I consider them a major part of my spiritual practice now. It used to be that the only things that made sense to me were transcendence and escape. These days I find the most humbling truth in being present, and watching with wonder, allowing life to be simply as it is.

I’m less consumed by my own thirst these days. I feel the water’s thirst for the thirsty world instead.


Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom
More Books >>


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

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

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Sep 27 2019

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 become 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.

These lines are so interesting. This conversation in the heart between the earth and God might suggest a personal crossroads between life and death. Perhaps it is a health crisis and she does not know if she will live or die and she is trying to make peace with all possibilities.

We can also read these lines as being about how one balances the love for outer forms and the inner spirit…

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 that 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 that is 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. The wellspring, not the things that briefly pointed the way to it.

…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

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


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

US (1935 – 2019) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Sep 20 2019

John O’Donohue – In Praise of the Earth

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

In Praise of the Earth
by John O’Donohue

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth,
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

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


/ Image by mark O’Rourke /

Today is an important day of environmental activism and reconnection with the natural world. A good day to praise the Earth–

There was a time when I lived on Maui, without much money but surrounded by stunning natural beauty. I stayed in a place half-way up Haleakala Volcano, at the edge of a eucalyptus forest. I fasted a lot in those days, and several times a week I would walk barefoot into the woods. Hidden among the trees was a small rock cave, just large enough for me to sit upright in meditation. To sit quietly in the cool, silent embrace of the Earth — a true blessing!

Though I now live in a small city, in a computer-powered world, I still carry that time with me in my heart. That memory continuously reminds me that, in spite of skyscrapers and the Internet, the world is not man-made. All the works of humanity are small accomplishments compared with the panoramic living miracle of the Earth.

The ground below us, sky above us, breath within us — all is the living Earth.

The Earth is the stage for our dramas.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And hold our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Not only could we not act without the Earth, we could not dream. The images, the objects, the colors that populate the human psyche, they are all of the Earth too. The Earth gives the mind a vocabulary. The Earth is our language. Not only is the natural world the stage upon which we act and experience and occupy physical space, it also populates the inner landscape of mind and dream.

The Earth is the place of birth, the stuff of life, and rest in death.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

While we as individuals live out the span of years alotted to us, the Earth is the full embodiment, the whole multiplicity of Life.

The tangible hints at the intangible. Matter expresses spirit. Earth gives form to heaven. How can we not honor that form? It is sacred. And it is us. You and I emerge to incarnate that form. Our challenge is to awaken and incarnate the secret light it suggests.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

Take some time today to sit on the Earth. Run your fingers through the grass. Feel the quiet strength filling your bones. Know you are home.

And… have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Echoes of Memory Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Beauty: The Invisible Embrace Wisdom of the Celtic World (Audio CD)
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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Sep 18 2019

Devara Dasimayya – Suppose you cut a tall bamboo

Published by under Poetry

Suppose you cut a tall bamboo
by Devara Dasimayya

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

Suppose you cut a tall bamboo
in two;
make the bottom piece a woman,
the headpiece a man;
rub them together
till they kindle:
                  tell me now,
the fire that’s born,
is it male or female,


                  O Ramanatha?

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Image by Christopher Michel /

Following up on the Kundalini theme of last week’s poem by Dorothy Walters…

I really love the poetry of the great Virasaiva saints of India but, on the surface, this particular poem by Devara Dasimayya doesn’t seem to have much to do with spirituality. Why is he talking about bamboo? And what does he mean when he speaks about making a piece of the bamboo “a woman” and a piece of it “a man”? Let’s unfold the poem a bit and see if the meaning becomes more clear…

Certain yogic practitioners carry with them a stick or a pole, often made of bamboo, called a danda. This “tall bamboo” is more than a walking stick, it is a ritual object that symbolizes the shushumna or the subtle spinal column that is the primary energetic pathway of awakened spiritual energies. The practitioner of Yoga strives to awaken the Kundalini energy which commonly sits dormant at the base of the spine. When aroused, the Kundalini moves up the spine along the shushumna, which is often compared to a hollow reed or stalk of bamboo. When the fiery Kundalini reaches the crown, the individual awareness merges with cosmic consciousness — the sacred marriage — and the new life of enlightenment is experienced.

Returning to Dasimayya’s poem, if you divide the “bamboo” of the spiritual spine “in two,” the “bottom piece” is the seat of the feminine Kundalini energy — thus you make it “a woman.” The “headpiece” is associated with the masculine transcendent form of the divine, in yogic tradition often identified with the God Shiva — making it “a man.” So we have the female and the male, magnetized poles of a spiritual circuit within the individual

We then “rub them together / till they kindle.” That is, if we continuously work to bring the energies of the feminine and masculine poles into contact, an electrical charge is built up, and eventually that spark gives birth to a “fire” — the awakened Kundalini that runs up the spine with a rush of heat. When the female and the male poles merge, the bliss of union is rapturous, releasing a new radiant life within us.

The question Dasimayya asks: Is this divine child of enlightenment, this living fire born of the union of polarities, is it male or female? Can one truly say that enlightenment somehow more masculine or feminine, that belongs to only one end of the pole? No, the fire consumes everything, including the feminine and masculine ends of the pole. There is no male and female left, no duality, no separation. All that remains is the formless living fire of awakened awareness.

The question itself seems to be a refutation of the idea that one gender is somehow inherently closer to godliness or more capable of attaining enlightenment. Energies that we might identify as “male” and “female” are important to the awakening process, but each individual has both and must harness both in harmony. And enlightenment itself? It is beyond the dualities epitomized by gender. Enlightenment encompasses everything and is not limited by categories, like gender.

The Virasaivas were a highly egalitarian group, recognizing social — and spiritual — equality in all people, regardless of caste or gender.

Try rereading the poem now and watch the sparks fly!


Recommended Books: Devara Dasimayya

Speaking of Siva


Devara Dasimayya

India (10th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Sep 13 2019

Dorothy Walters – Still Life

Published by under Poetry

Still Life
by Dorothy Walters

      The rose that no longer blooms in the garden,
      blooms inside her whole body, among the veins
      and organs and the skeleton.
                  — Linda Gregg

A hidden blossoming.
Petals flaming beneath the skin.
And a softness pressing,
as delicate as the mouth
of a blind lover.


Each movement,
each quiet gesture
awakens
a rosary in the blood.
Was it desire
which brought her to this moment,
this arrival at source,
or was it merely a need
to be still, to be richly fed
from this fountain
of dark silence.

— from Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey, by Dorothy Walters


/ Image by Arielle Kincaid /

I consider Dorothy Walters to be a friend, as well as a source of inspiration. She is in her 90s and still very active with various spiritual groups, sometimes giving talks, and regularly offering advice to people who contact her online. She and I have a running joke — One of us suggests getting together for brunch and conversation… until we try to pin down a date. Her schedule is always so busy that she ends up saying something like, “How about in two months?”

Since I’m in fairly regular contact with her, I was surprised to randomly find a new interview she recently did for the YouTube channel Buddha at the Gas Pump. I was surprised because she didn’t tell me about it or send me a link, it just popped up unexpectedly in my YouTube queue.

You can watch the YouTube interview here: Dorothy Walters Interview – Buddha at the Gas Pump

A couple weeks ago I noticed that her book of poetry, Marrow of Flame, which the Poetry Chaikhana publishes, had experienced a bump in sales recently and I was curious why. Then I noticed the new interview on YouTube. That’s why. More people are discovering this fascinating, unconventional spiritual elder and are wanting to read her writings.

With Dorothy in my thoughts, it only seems natural to share one of her poems from Marrow of Flame today.

Let’s start with the poem’s title itself, “Still Life.” Normally, that suggests a static painting, something beautiful with life in it, but without movement. Reading this poem, there is so much vitality that it is easy to forget that it is all happening within. The person of the poem — Dorothy Walters herself, you or me as the reader — is actually not doing anything outwardly. All of that life, the blossoming and searing, that is all happening within, and outwardly there is stillness, or perhaps just a slight gesture here and there. Still life, life within, stillness without.

Dorothy Walters speaks very directly about the spiritual and energetic opening often referred to as Kundalini awakening. She regularly talks about the highs and lows of Kundalini, that it can be blissful, rapturous, transformative, but it can also be deeply challenging and disorienting. Not only is it spiritual, with profound affects on the consciousness and one’s sense of self and interconnectedness with all things, it can also be quite physical, bestowing the most delightful sensations down to the cellular level, but also sometimes producing physical difficulties and discomfort. Dorothy’s poetry gives voice to the entire range of the Kundalini experience.

When she takes Linda Gregg’s quote, the inner blossoming becomes a representation of the spiritual energies of the Kundalini, flaming like the fire so associated with the experience, and also delicate and soft, like a lover, since this opening is often likened to ecstatic union with the Divine Beloved.

A hidden blossoming.
Petals flaming beneath the skin.
And a softness pressing,
as delicate as the mouth
of a blind lover.

With her first lines we immediately feel the searing, possibly painful passion, somehow balanced with a sense of profound peace.

And let’s not forget the sense of life, an entire garden within, and that garden is waking up, blossoming.

Each movement,
each quiet gesture
awakens
a rosary in the blood.

I love that phrase, “a rosary in the blood.” When fully swept up in the experience of the awakened Kundalini, when the energy flows without hindrances, there is a profound sense of stillness and interconnection. It is as if there is no sense of a little self to cause disruption within the wide open expanse of being. And in that open stillness, if you then move the body slightly, or if it moves on its own, as sometimes happens in such moments, even if you shift your energies a bit, that profound inner stillness can become a gently flowing bliss that bubbles and anoints every cell of the body. There is a wondrous interplay between stillness and movement, movement emerging from stillness and returning back to stillness, highlighted with ripples of delight.

Was it desire
which brought her to this moment,
this arrival at source

What brings us here? Whether we call it Kundalini or by some other name, what brings us to moments of awakening and communion? Is it because of some inner drive, some effort or practice? Is it because we have found the right pathway or teacher?

Or is it because something in us hungers and can be fed by nothing else? Is the hunger itself the beginning of one’s awakening?

or was it merely a need
to be still, to be richly fed
from this fountain
of dark silence.

Whether we have some big experience that we label Kundalini awakening or simply live our lives day-to-day learning to better embody our true selves with kindness and compassion, that secret fountain feeds us.

In our quiet moments we can feel it, that secret life unfolding, a hidden blossoming.


Recommended Books: Dorothy Walters

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension
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Dorothy Walters, Dorothy Walters poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Sep 13 2019

Dorothy Walters – Buddha at the Gas Pump

Published by under Poetry

Just recently the wonderful sage and poet Dorothy Walters did an extended interview with Buddha at the Gas Pump:

The Poetry Chaikhana publishes Dorothy’s best-known collection of poetry, Marrow of Flame.

Marrow of Flame: Poems of the Spiritual Journey
by Dorothy Walters

Also available through Wordery Free shipping anywhere in the world

She is also the author of a memoir, Unmasking the Rose: A Record of Kundalini Initiation, as well as several other excellent collections of poetry, including Some Kiss We Want: Poems Selected and New, The Kundalini Poems: Reflections of Radiance and Joy, and A Cloth of Fine Gold: Poems of the Inner Journey.

Dorothy Walters is a personal friend and I can attest to the depth of her wisdom and genuineness. At the age of 91, she continues to inspire me with her energy and enthusiasm.

Click here to read some poems by Dorothy Walters.

About Dorothy Walters

Dorothy Walters, PHD, spent most of her early professional life as a professor of English literature in various Midwestern universities. She helped to found one of the first women’s studies programs in this country and served as the director of this program for many years. After an extended residence in San Francisco, she now lives and writes in Colorado, where she has a close relationship with the mountains as well as various streams and canyons.

She underwent major Kundalini awakening in 1981 (a phenomenon totally unfamiliar to her as well as to most of her contemporaries at the time); since then she has devoted her life to researching and writing about this subject and to witnessing the unfolding of this process within herself as well as assisting others on a similar path through writing and other means. As someone who made her extensive journey without the direction of any external leader or guru, church, or established order, she is a strong believer in the “guru within,” the inner guide rather than the external authority figure or institution.

She feels that universal Kundalini awakening is the means for planetary and personal evolution of consciousness, and that evidence of planetary initiation is becoming more and more prevalent. Her Kundalini awakening and subsequent process of unfolding are described in her memoir Unmasking the Rose: A Record of Kundalini Initiation.  Her poems taken from her four previous volumes are published as Some Kiss We Want: Poems Selected and New. Her article on “Kundalini and the Mystic Path” was included in Kundalini Rising, an anthology from Sounds True Publications. Her poems, which have been included in many anthologies and journals, have been set to music and sung at the Royal Opera House in London as well as Harvard University, used as texts for sermons and read aloud in churches, included in doctoral projects, been frequently quoted, and have given inspiration to many.

She often gives counsel and referral free of charge to those undergoing spontaneous Kundalini awakening and/or spiritual transformation.

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Sep 06 2019

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – Beg for Love

Published by under Poetry

Beg for Love
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

Beg for Love.
Consider this burning, and those who
burn, as gifts from the Friend.
Nothing to learn.
Too much has already been said.
When you read a single page from
the silent book of your heart,
you will laugh at all this chattering,
all this pretentious learning.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian


/ Image by greenzowie /

All of my life I have dealt with anxiety. At times quite severe. When I was younger, I used to twist myself into convoluted states of pretense to convince myself that it wasn’t there. Or I would mask it behind anger — someone or some situation must be to blame for my tension. At a certain point I grew tired of my evasions and I simply accepted the patterns of anxiety in my life. I made friends with it. And in befriending it, I came to know it better.

While the anxiety patterns are generally reduced in my life these days, I can’t say that they are entirely gone. When anxiety shows up, I sit with it and we talk. As I relax out of my reflexive resistance, I learn more about myself. The anxiety in its way is a teacher. It tears holes in the latest social facade I’ve begun constructing. Instead of imagining that the anxiety points to something being “wrong,” which implies that something must be fixed in a state of desperation, I tend now to relate to anxiety as an accent in the awareness — and as an intense sensation. Anxiety can seem physical at times and, as a sensation, it burns.

When anxiety appears the first thought is, What’s wrong? I go through a rapid assessment of the daily elements of my life: my current projects as a computer programmer, my income, my work with the Poetry Chaikhana, recent conversations with my wife, chores that need to be done, am I meditating enough, how is my health… The list expands to be as long as my anxiety-controlled mind wants to make it. But, if nothing truly worthy of concern emerges in that first quick self-assessment, what I’ve learned to do is stop shredding my life up in search of the “problem” and just sit with that burning sensation of anxiety itself and let it reveal what it has to say in its own way.

Nine times out of ten I find that it is not about practical life issues and, instead, it has shown up to tease and chide me as it highlights some ego pattern I hadn’t recognized in the midst of my daily busyness. It burns and stings until I remember, Oh, yes, I am not that neat, two-dimensional figure I once again had begun to imagine myself to be. When I let go of that cardboard cutout version of myself, the heat of the anxiety consumes it and, satisfied, it dissipates, leaving me somehow more fully myself.

So in my idiosyncratic reading of this poem by the great Abu-Said Abil-Kheir, when he talks about burning as being “gifts from the Friend,” I relate to it in a highly personal and visceral way. I hear in his words how the intense, often painful experiences in life can be embraced as a cleansing process that in some alchemical sense refines us, ushering us into a deeper sense of self.

Nothing to learn.
Too much has already been said.

The real path is not about thinking or book learning, but about falling silent and opening ourselves to the intense transformative energies already at work in our lives. That’s when we enter that most holy of places, the heart.

When you read a single page from
the silent book of your heart,
you will laugh at all this chattering,
all this pretentious learning.


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition
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Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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