Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Jun 04 2014

Farid ud-Din Attar – A slave’s freedom

Published by under Poetry

A slave’s freedom
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

Loghman of Sarrakhs cried: “Dear God, behold
Your faithful servant, poor, bewildered, old–
An old slave is permitted to go free;
I’ve spent my life in patient loyalty,
I’m bent with grief, my black hair’s turned to snow;
Grant manumission, Lord, and let me go.”
A voice replied: “When you have gained release
from mind and thought, your slavery will cease;
You will be free when these two disappear.”
He said: “Lord, it is You whom I revere;
What are the mind and all its ways to me?”
And left them there and then — in ecstasy
He danced and clapped his hands and boldly cried:
“Who am I now? The slave I was has died;
What’s freedom, servitude, and where are they?
Both happiness and grief have fled away;
I neither own nor lack all qualities;
My blindness looks on secret mysteries –
I know not whether You are I, I You;
I lose myself in You, there is no two.”

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


/ Photo by Lucas Incas /

This paints a striking image, doesn’t it? An old man, a slave all his life, bent, worn, prays to God for his freedom.

My first question: Whom is the old man slave to? He is not begging some human master for freedom. He is asking God. So does that mean he is God’s slave? Perhaps. A lot of religious language — Muslim, Christian, Hindu — refers to the faithful as slaves or servants of God. But that imagery can also make us uncomfortable. It can conjure images of a cruel and arbitrary God. It does, however, convey the absolute dedication of the servant, a willingness to merge the personal will with the Divine.

Another way of look at the old man’s servitude is that he has been a slave to the world. Remember that “the world” is not reality, it is consensus reality, a false and limited idea of reality. The world is reality hidden by the heavy blanket of our mental projections. At best, the world gives us only a rough idea of the contours of reality in its fulness… that is, until we stop perceiving through the imperfect filter of the mind under the control of the nafs (the ego).

He [the slave] said: “Lord, it is You whom I revere;
What are the mind and all its ways to me?”

Having spent himself totally in the immense labor of his life, the old slave has little reason left to cling to the false images of the mind. So he lets that old habit fall away and “in ecstasy / He danced and clapped his hands…” This one act of exhausted courage is all he needs for liberation.

Attachment to the mind and its ways is the fundamental attachment. Every other attachment, every desire and hatred, every habit, every disharmonious pattern stems from that fundamental attachment. True renunciation does not necessarily require monk’s robes or retreating to a mountain cave. It only requires dropping that fundamental attachment to mind, freeing the full awareness from mind’s filters and stickiness. Whether we are a solitary desert dervish or a career person with a large family, that’s the one act of renunciation we all must accomplish to find our freedom.

Notice also that freedom was always available to the slave. He could have had his freedom at any time, at any point in his long life. But the reality is that we often don’t find the courage, or even think to ask the questions that lead us there, until we’ve worn ourselves out in the endless efforts of slavery. This is why I sometimes say that the purpose of spiritual practice is to wear yourself out. We need to come to a point when we grow weary of our own patterns and compulsive ways of seeing ourselves that we finally, wearily give ourselves permission to take that single step beyond the mind’s clutches. The rigors of life alone will do that just fine, but it can be a slow, grinding process and we have to walk our path with open awareness and open heart, which is not easy amidst the onslaught of daily challenges. Spiritual practices allow us to internalize that intensity while imbuing it with a purpose that encourages us to keep heart and awareness open.

But all that’s really needed is that one step.

Then, free from that chained sense of reality, all sense of effort falls away. Even the sense of self falls away. All that remains is the blissful sense of melting with divine reality.

“Who am I now? The slave I was has died;
What’s freedom, servitude, and where are they?
Both happiness and grief have fled away;
I neither own nor lack all qualities;
My blindness looks on secret mysteries –
I know not whether You are I, I You;
I lose myself in You, there is no two.”

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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May 30 2014

Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman

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Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

— from Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women, by Maya Angelou


/ Photo by KealaKC /

Many of you have probably heard by now of the passing of the great American poet and activist Maya Angelou, so I thought we’d have a poem today in honor of that phenomenal woman.

Of course we have to read this poem aloud in order to enjoy the song in the rhyme and rhythm — go ahead, make some noise. Catch its sassy swaying proclamation of selfhood.

Woman, not some idealized form found in glossy magazine. Woman, not defined by a man as lover, wife, mother. Woman, not the virgin stripped of sex, and not the whore plastered with it. But woman, full and strong and bold. Praise to that mighty presence! Phenomenal woman.

Maya Angelou, Maya Angelou poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Maya Angelou

US (1928 – 2014) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Maya Angelou

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May 29 2014

Video: David Whyte TED Talk

Published by under Poetry,Videos

David Whyte: “Alertness is the discipline of familiarity.”

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May 21 2014

Kobayashi Issa – even poorly planted

Published by under Poetry

even poorly planted
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by David G. Lanoue

even poorly planted
rice plants
slowly, slowly…green!

- from the website http://haikuguy.com/issa/


/ Photo by Deboarah Austin /

Something so… healing about this haiku. Do you have the same reaction?

To me these words suggest that no matter how imperfect we imagine our circumstances — lack of education, finances, travel, guide, whatever we think might be missing that’s holding us back — still we inexorably grow green. Spirit awakens within us with utter disregard to the limiting details of our lives. And what is truly beautiful is watching the unique ways that greenness comes upon us. The story we get to share with the world is the specific way the spirit rises in us, the special path it finds around the obstacles that make up our specific lives, and how we are often strengthened by this navigation.

And while daily life itself may have its challenges and struggles, that greening process, well, it just happens. Slowly, patiently, naturally. All we have to do is let it.

Kobayashi Issa, Kobayashi Issa poetry, Buddhist poetry Kobayashi Issa

Japan (1763 – 1828) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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May 19 2014

Dorothy Walters – After

Published by under Poetry

After
by Dorothy Walters

There is one thing certain.
Once you have stood
in the midst of that
searing flame,
been struck down
to earth
like a pilgrim
entered by light at last
and have lain there,
waiting,
not quite certain –

how can you ever know again
what it is
not to be blinded by the light,
never to have gone there
to the top of the snow hung peak
and felt that nameless something
descend onto your shoulders,
your breast,
even as you bent forward
in disbelief.

— from The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension, by Dorothy Walters


/ Photo by Trekking Rinjani /

Hold onto your doubt, if it serves you. Keep questioning even in the moment of your most radical transformation.

Once you have stood
in the midst of that
searing flame,
been struck down
to earth
like a pilgrim
entered by light at last
and have lain there,
waiting,
not quite certain –

But don’t think your disbelief can trump the reality you now see and know.

how can you ever know again
what it is
not to be blinded by the light…

It may not fit our world view, it may not fit our religion, and we know all too well our foolish failings, yet still there is this flood of light eager to burst forth within us and overturn all our rock-solid understanding.

and felt that nameless something
descend onto your shoulders,
your breast,
even as you bent forward
in disbelief.

Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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May 16 2014

Yunus Emre – True speech is the fruit of not speaking

Published by under Poetry

True speech is the fruit of not speaking
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

True speech is the fruit of not speaking.
Too much talking clouds the heart.

If you want to clear the heart,
say this much, the essence of all talking:

Speak truly. God speaks through words truly spoken.
Falsity ends in pain.

Unless you witness all of creation in a single glance,
you’re in sin even with all your religion.

The explanation of the Law is this:
The Law is a ship. Truth is her ocean.

No matter how strong the wood,
the sea can smash the ship.

The secret is this:
A “saint” of religion may in reality be an unbeliever.

We will master this science and read this book of love.
God instructs. Love is His school.

Since the glance of the saints fell on poor Yunus
nothing has been a misfortune.

— from The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre, Translated by Kabir Helminski / Translated by Refik Algan


/ Photo by Professor Zeeshan Shah /

Yunus Emre is always such a delight to me! This poem, for example, isn’t it wonderful? It’s difficult not to break into a smile reading it… even when some words sting.

With this song, Yunus Emre gives us a sharply teasing reminder that even if we follow all of the rules of our religious tradition, that’s not the same thing as achieving saintliness or holiness.

The secret is this:
A “saint” of religion may in reality be an unbeliever.

This is something fundamentalists of every religion keep stumbling over: Following your religion’s ritual, rules, and way of life can be a profound pathway, an enriching and challenging spiritual practice; but it is not the goal in itself. The living ocean of truth is the goal.

The explanation of the Law is this:
The Law is a ship. Truth is her ocean.

No matter how strong the wood,
the sea can smash the ship.

The goal must never be lost in the minutia of the rules. A true believer is someone who merges fully with that divine ocean, however that soul manages to reach the water. Even someone who perfectly lives the life of a “saint”, if that person isn’t drenched and blissfully drowning, that person is still an unbeliever…

Mystics have the irritating habit of cutting through religious pretense while restoring its heart:

Unless you witness all of creation in a single glance,
you’re in sin even with all your religion.

Yunus Emre, Yunus Emre poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Yunus Emre

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 09 2014

Nazrul Islam – He who has seen my Mother

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He who has seen my Mother
by Nazrul Islam

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott

He who has seen my Mother
can he hate his brother?
She loves everyone in the three worlds;
her heart cries for all.
With her there’s no difference of caste,
no distinction between high and low;
all are the same.
If she sees a Candala
like Rama with Guhak
she clasps him to her breast.
Ma is our Great Illusion, highest Nature, and
Father our highest Self;
      that’s why one feels love for all
      we feel love for all.
If you worship the Mother
hating her children
she won’t accept your puja;
the Ten-Armed One will not.
The day we forget the knowledge of difference
            on that day only
            will Ma come home to us.

— from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott


/ Photo by thelearningcurv /

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the US, Canada, and many other countries. My own mother died a few years ago, so her birthday, which was May 3rd, followed closely by Mother’s Day, has a particular resonance for me. I think about my mother, who she was, what she meant to me, but I also notice a softening of the once hard edges of my memory of her. The mother I remember is a specific woman with whom I share life history, but my memory of her expands, becomes more universal. In her I sometimes see the woman who was my mother, and sometimes I find myself relating to an archetypal idea of Mother.

So I thought this poem addressed to the Great Mother by Nazrul Islam might be a good one to contemplate today…

The Great Mother is my mother, yet the mother of all. She is the mother of the people, the mother of the world, the bringer into being of all that is. Through the one universal Mother, we are all brothers and sisters.

He who has seen my Mother
can he hate his brother?

All faiths recognize a universal brotherhood of humanity, but too often it feels like a vague philosophical concept or merely a pleasant statement. But when we bring an image of the Divine Feminine into our sense of sacred reality, whether as one of the other great Hindu goddesses, Mother Mary, Sophia, one of the pre-Christian goddesses of Europe, even a revered female saint, the universal family of life becomes a more tangible, felt reality to us. That touch of the Mother frees our philosophies from the head and brings them into the heart and into the belly, and we experience the interconnectedness of things in a more visceral, immediate way. Brotherhood ceases to be a nice idea and becomes the simple and obvious reality.

In the Mother/Father dichotomy, the Divine Father is often seen as the embodiment of the pure essence of being, while the Divine Mother is the power of creation… and her will to create comes from Love. So she is also Love. Every being is her child whom she loves.

She loves everyone in the three worlds;
her heart cries for all.

And she loves all her children equally.

With her there’s no difference of caste,
no distinction between high and low;
all are the same.

And they don’t often mention this in greeting cards, but Mother’s Day was started as a peace movement. The idea behind it was that, if we remember and honor our own mothers, we will remember that every person has a mother who loved them, which turns war into a terrible farce. Mother’s day is a day of family love and world peace.

How can we say we worship the Most Loving One yet harbor hate in our hearts? Can we divide ourselves from our brothers and sisters and still think ourselves worthy of the Universal Mother?

If you worship the Mother
hating her children
she won’t accept your puja [worship]

I should point out that this poem may have been written with an important, but somewhat less elevated intention behind it. Nazrul Islam, as his name implies, was Muslim, yet some of his poetry is addressed to Kali, the Mother Goddess of Bengali Hindus — though he often refers to her more generically as Mother or Ma. Nazrul Islam composed his poetry during the time of British control of India and, in Bengal, the Mother Goddess came to be viewed as a personification of Mother India and the determination to be free of foreign domination. So, rather than a poem of universal brotherhood, this might be read as a poem to awaken national unity between the Indian Muslims and Hindus while striving to free themselves from the British imperial yoke.

That perspective transforms the final lines–

The day we forget the knowledge of difference
            on that day only
            will Ma come home to us.

–into the practical insight that only when they work together will they succeed in re-establishing an independent Indian nation.

The Mother, it seems, is both a peace activist and an independence fighter. In the immensity of her being, the Mother integrates and embodies both.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Nazrul Islam, Nazrul Islam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Nazrul Islam

India/Bangladesh (1899 – 1976) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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May 02 2014

Ryokan – Even if you consume as many books

Published by under Poetry

Even if you consume as many books
by Ryokan

English version by John Stevens

Even if you consume as many books
As the sands of the Ganges
It is not as good as really catching
One verse of Zen.
If you want the secret of Buddhism,
Here it is: Everything is in the Heart!

— from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, Translated by John Stevens


/ Photo by guillermocarballa /

I was an academic sort of kid. As I entered high school I was part of a college-oriented program that attracted some truly brilliant students. And in my own oddball social circle, we were early 80s computer nerds. Since we were not athletes or at the top of the adolescent social pecking order, we had to find our own outcast sense of pride, our own currency of superiority — and ours was knowledge. Our conversations were stuffed with (often unnecessary) information about anything and everything, from scientific advances to computer programming shortcuts to pop culture trivia.

We thought of it as knowledge but, you know, it wasn’t. It was just data. Valuable, perhaps, in the right context, but it was not actual knowledge.

This is a particularly difficult thing for headblind modern society to really understand: Accumulated information is not the same thing as knowledge. By the time I left high school, I came to this unsettling conclusion. I had witnessed the brilliant and the information-saturated among my peers, and I felt that something crucial was still missing. I didn’t want to acquire information, I wanted to know.

That’s a serious dilemma to be wrestling with as you begin your university years. My grades plummeted as I questioned the very nature of learning and academic institutions in general. I dropped out of college — twice. In many ways, that’s when my real education began.

Even if you consume as many books
As the sands of the Ganges
It is not as good as really catching
One verse of Zen.

Especially in the spiritual realm, if we don’t understand this tension between information and knowledge, we run into serious problems with terrible repercussions for religion and culture. When we confuse knowledge of scripture with divine truth, we imagine that the letter of the law is the same as the spirit of the law. When the letter of the law is all we acknowledge, it becomes brittle, fragile, threatened by every social change and new perspective. Its greatest threat becomes the spirit of the law itself, for that stays active in the changing world, while the letter stays rigidly fixed. We stop looking deeply, living deeply, afraid of seeing a disconnect between the information of the written “truth,” and our knowledge of the living truth. This happens in the sciences as well as in religion.

Here’s a way of understanding that helps me to personally keep perspective: Any information that can be written in a book, stored in a computer, or committed to memory may be a hugely valuable tool — spiritual or practical — but it is only a tool, not real knowledge. It only gains its meaning through use. The meaning comes from what we create in the world and in ourselves with that information. The real value in every action and thought is discovered as it leads us back to the center of centers, for only there is true knowledge found.

If you want the secret of Buddhism,
Here it is: Everything is in the Heart!

Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

Japan (1758 – 1831) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Apr 30 2014

Andrew Colliver – The Further You Go

Published by under Poetry

The Further You Go
by Andrew Colliver

Mercy, there have been revelations.
Grace, there has been realisation. Still, you must
travel the path of time and circumstance.

The further you go, the more it comes back to paying attention.
The rough skin of the tallowwood, the trade routes of lorikeets, a sky lifting
behind afternoon clouds. Staying close to the texture of things.

People can go before you and talk all they want,
but only one thing makes sense: the way the world enters
and finds its voice in you: the place you are free.


/ Photo by Bunnis /

Mercy, there have been revelations.
Grace, there has been realisation. Still, you must
travel the path of time and circumstance.

Those opening lines say something so important, that just isn’t said often enough: Even with that sweet touch of mercy and grace, “Still, you must travel the path of time and circumstance.”

After being enrapt by such full, spacious silence, we are disoriented by the recognition that rent is still due, dishes still wait to be done. I think we so romanticize states of opening that we imagine all work and responsibility will step aside for us. Yet the world goes on and, if we’re not living in a forest or a cave, we must still answer its demands.

So then we start asking ourselves just what this revelation or realization actually means.

The further you go, the more it comes back to paying attention.

This poem suggests to me that our opening becomes its own practice. We discover a new sense of self which encounters the world more fully, with more fully engaged awareness, allowing something big to express itself through us in our simple daily activities.

In the collapse of our fantasies of enlightenment, we discover the opportunity live an embodied enlightenment, instead. The result may not look much like enlightenment at all. No robes, no blissfully glassy gaze, no gathering of disciples, just an ordinary person leading an ordinary life. Except that that ordinary life starts to ring with a certain quiet resonance. It touches and transforms. It sees the secret glistening beneath the world’s hard surfaces. It speaks with a new and truer voice.

Love those final lines:

People can go before you and talk all they want,
but only one thing makes sense: the way the world enters
and finds its voice in you: the place you are free.

…The way the world enters and finds its voice in you.




Andrew Colliver

Australia (1953 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Andrew Colliver is a psychiatric social worker working in rural New South Wales in Australia.

His major influences in writing are Mary Oliver and David Whyte, “with a dash of Rumi’s exuberance.”

When asked about the transcendent themes within his poetry, he says, “Poetry has always been a part of my reading, with occasional forays into writing, but for my own eyes only. Then, in 2006, the experience — now happening to thousands across the globe — of consciousness awakening to itself within the human form, began to up-end my life, and also to seek expression in words. Poems suggest themselves from the more profound experiences of awakeness, and what I do is then sculpt and refine them into something that I hope is intelligible to others. Ideas and words come most frequently when I’m in nature, but any setting can be seen at any time for what it is: the expression of undivided consciousness.”

More poetry by Andrew Colliver

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Apr 23 2014

Hsu Yun – An Exquisite Truth

Published by under Poetry

An Exquisite Truth
by Hsu Yun

This is an exquisite truth:
Saints and ordinary folks are the same from the start.
Inquiring about a difference
Is like asking to borrow string
when you’ve got a good strong rope.
Every Dharma is known in the heart.
After a rain, the mountain colors intensify.
Once you become familiar with the design of fate’s illusions
Your ink-well will contain all of life and death.


/ Photo by mrcool256 /

I like what that opening statement says:

This is an exquisite truth:
Saints and ordinary folks are the same from the start.

Whether we’re talking about inspired reformers or shining examples of enlightenment, our instinct is to elevate great souls as unique phenomena. We assume they are somehow other than us. But the liberating truth is that saints are the same as everyone else. The only difference, if we want to call it a difference, is that they don’t cover up their nature as most of us have learned to do. We all have that same steady glow within us. A saint is simply someone who doesn’t damp it down.

Understood this way, the spiritual journey is not one of crushing effort to acquire virtues, to build wisdom, to learn love. We already have all that in abundance. The only work necessary is to let go of the assumptions that keep our true nature hidden.

Once you become familiar with the design of fate’s illusions
Your ink-well will contain all of life and death.

I think these are the lines I respond to the most. I don’t know about you, but I spent so much of my life as a teenager and young adult feeling disappointed with where I found myself in the world. I wanted something profound, adventurous, bursting with meaning. Instead, I had a very ordinary lower middle class American upbringing. I sabotaged my college education and decided to search for something deeper. Most of that search was a painful flailing about, but it did bring me adventures, both internal and external. I lived on Maui for several years, I lived at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had friends in wheelchairs, friends with wealth. I’ve known hippies and bikers and techies and farmers.

While all of that makes for good stories, that ache for something extraordinary just fell away the moment I first settled into a sense of spiritual opening. With that dawning of peace, I also found rest… and a profound sense of self-acceptance. It wasn’t that I had somehow changed into someone new and extraordinary. Instead, I felt profoundly myself for the first time, profoundly my ordinary self. And I can’t describe how serenely blissful that recognition of ordinariness is. I no longer felt the constant need to struggle to attain the extraordinary; the simple, the plain stood revealed as a stunning work of art filling every day.

These lines by Hsu Yun about “fate’s illusions” remind me of how I spent the first three decades of my life struggling against my circumstances to find a fate with meaning, only to discover that the struggle was unnecessary. All I had to do was open my eyes. In every corner of the world, in every life, big and small, the entire mystery of life and death can be found.

After a rain, the mountain colors intensify.

Hsu Yun, Hsu Yun poetry, Buddhist poetry Hsu Yun

China (1839 – 1959) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Apr 21 2014

Hakim Sanai – Bring all of yourself to his door

Published by under Poetry

Bring all of yourself to his door
by Hakim Sanai

English version by D.L. Pendlebury

Bring all of yourself to his door:
bring only a part,
and you’ve brought nothing at all.

— from The Walled Garden of Truth, by Hakim Sanai / Translated by David Pendlebury


/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

These few lines from Sanai aren’t particularly poetic. They aren’t filled with exotic and lovely imagery. Reading this short verse we don’t get that boost of uplifting energy we often seek in sacred poetry. Yet it resonates, doesn’t it?

I think these lines get to the core of what spiritual seeking is all about. What does it mean for us to bring all that we are to God’s door? If you prefer less theistic language, how do we stand fully before the Eternal Presence? This is the fundamental dilemma of every seeker.

The truth is that we are always before the Eternal Presence, but most of the time not much seems to be happening. The problem isn’t that God isn’t there, it’s that we are not there. Not fully. But what then does it mean to bring all of ourselves to that meeting?

We begin to wrestle with our own reflexes, trying so hard to be fully present, trying to bring our whole selves to the threshold — and yet we still hold back.

We each have a deep seated instinct to hide. We feel protected when we hide. To not be seen is to be safe. This is the entire purpose of the ego; we create a social mask behind which we hide ourselves. We gather our experiences, stitch them together with a narrative, and present that patchwork creation to the world, saying, “This is me. Don’t look any further.” The formulation and modification of this ego-mask becomes the primary work of most of our lives, and we too easily forget that we are not that mask, that we are, in fact, something much bigger and less easily defined. The act of hiding becomes institutionalized in the awareness. Only a rebellion can overcome this entrenched pattern in the awareness. But before that revolution can catch fire and spread throughout the psyche, we need to recognize the effects of this dynamic and we have to really decide that we don’t want to hide any more.

Now, we need to be clear with ourselves that there may very well be reasons to present a specific image of ourselves in social situations. Some parts are emphasized and others necessarily held back. Some aspects of our lives are appropriately private or sacred or vulnerable, and not to be casually shared.

Here’s the thing: That same valid self-protection mechanism becomes spiritually toxic when we try to hide aspects of ourselves from our own awareness… or from God. We need to drop those fig leaves that were a childish attempt to hide parts of ourselves from the All-Seeing.

The fulness of all that we are is much bigger than any neat story we want to pack it all into. We can’t truncate parts of ourselves to force a snug fit into the story we want to tell ourselves. We must dwell in our entirety. Anything else becomes self-dismemberment. We must claim all of our history, all our feelings and thoughts, the painful and the celestial all together.

And then we step up to the threshold. Hesitant, naked, vulnerable, we step up to God’s door, we enter the eternal present moment. That’s when the magic happens. The large, unwieldy collection of victories and wounds we’ve brought with us comes into focus for the first time and we have a vision of ourselves, our whole selves, alive and immense, integral within the living immense universe. That which we were hesitant to look at within ourselves becomes an image of beauty and, yes, majesty blissfully melting into the majestic Beauty all around us.

We all, on some level, crave this encounter precisely in order to heal the deep pain of separation. If we come with less than our whole selves, if we come with only fragments of our being, how then can we find healing?

Bring all of yourself to his door

Hakim Sanai

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

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Apr 18 2014

Thomas Merton – The Sowing of Meanings

Published by under Poetry

The Sowing of Meanings
by Thomas Merton

See the high birds! Is their’s the song
That dies among the wood-light
Wounding the listener with such bright arrows?
Or do they play in wheeling silences
Defining in the perfect sky
The bounds of (here below) our solitude,

Where spring has generated lights of green
To glow in clouds upon the sombre branches?
Ponds full of sky and stillnesses
What heavy summer songs still sleep
Under the tawny rushes at your brim?

More than a season will be born here, nature,
In your world of gravid mirrors!
The quiet air awaits one note,
One light, one ray and it will be the angels’ spring:
One flash, one glance upon the shiny pond, and then
Asperges me! sweet wilderness, and lo! we are redeemed!

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power –
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

Until, in the amazing light of April,
Surcharging the religious silence of the spring,
Creation finds the pressure of His everlasting secret
Too terrible to bear.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light,
While the wild countryside, unknown, unvisited of men,
Bears sheaves of clean, transforming fire.

And then, oh then the written image, schooled in sacrifice,
The deep united threeness printed in our being,
Shot by the brilliant syllable of such an intuition, turns within,
And plants that light far down into the heart of darkness and oblivion,
Dives after, and discovers flame.

— from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Photo by NemanjaJ /

Where I live in Colorado we finally feel spring awakening, eager to awaken. The reviving world calls me to step out my front door, too stroll…

Ponds full of sky and stillnesses

…to see what is secretly waiting to blossom…

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power –
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

The question often comes up: What does that line about “asperges” mean? “Asperges” is a reference to the Catholic rite of sprinkling holy water on the congregation, especially associated with Easter mass. It comes from the first word (in Latin) of Psalms 51:9, which is traditionally chanted in Catholic masses during Easter. So Merton is making a reference to anointing, sanctification, purification, and Easter…

I hope you find a way to step into the awakening world this Easter weekend.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light…

Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Apr 16 2014

Wendell Berry – The Peace of Wild Things

Published by under Poetry

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— from Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, by Wendell Berry


/ Photo by TheBroth3R /

My wife and I have been going for walks recently in an area called Roger’s Grove. The park has a small lake with a couple of islands at its center. It is a favorite spot for Canadian geese this time of year. As we stroll around the lake we sometimes see a gray heron standing in meditative stillness among the reeds along the banks. Most recently we noticed some new visitors: one and then two bright white pelicans, looking a bit awkward in form but moving with the grace of swans upon the lake’s surface.

Yesterday, we had an unexpected sight: Those two pelicans had become thirty pelicans! The lake was filled with these bright white beings! We walked around the lake in an awed daze. We watched as these stunning birds paddled around the lake in groups, tacking together in their movements, like a synchronized drifting dance, all gliding to the left and then, with some unseen signal, all turning right again. They even dipped their heads beneath the water all at once, sometimes several times in a row, down and up and down and up, a quiet undulation rippling through through group. They seemed to revel in this sleepy synchronicity of movement beneath the warming sun.

It was a magical moment. A healing moment. An encounter with the peace of wild things.

That’s just it– these, like all living beings, experience struggle, trauma, death, yet they continue to reside in the present moment and celebrate the bliss of a sweet afternoon when it is upon them. And in this way wild things are teachers to us all.

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I want to acknowledge what a potent month this is. We just had a full moon with an eclipse. Major planetary alignments occurring too. We are in the middle of Passover. And, for Christians, it is Holy Week leading up to Easter this Sunday. A time for renewal and reformulation of self and society.

Sending blessings and peace…

Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

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Apr 11 2014

Paramahansa Yogananda – Prayer for the Great Enlightenment

Published by under Poetry

Prayer for the Great Enlightenment
by Paramahansa Yogananda

O August God, Beloved Father, Oversoul of the Universe, Spirit of Spirits, Friend of Friends! unravel for me the mystery of my existence. Teach me to worship Thee in breathlessness, in sleeplessness, in deathlessness.

In the stillness of my soul, possess me; may I be conscious of Thine immortal presence in and around me. I yearn to know Thee, O secondless, O True Unique!

— from Whispers from Eternity, by Paramahansa Yogananda

Something for us today by the great 20th century ambassador or Indian spirituality, Paramahansa Yogananda.

unravel for me the mystery of my existence

As I reread this one line, it occurs to me that this is the heart of every prayer. This is the essential plea of every soul, whether one is religious or not. We all fundamentally feel this deep urge to discover who and what we are, what gives our lives meaning and purpose.

We humans are meaning-seeking creatures and, most importantly, we need to know how we ourselves fit within the landscape of meaning.

But we often don’t recognize how important meaning is to us. Meaning is more important than life and death. We all naturally and instinctively shy from death. But what is the most terrible form of death? Meaningless death. When we feel death has meaning, as the completion of a life that has had meaning, then death loses its sting. This might suggest to us that we should strive not so much to avoid death or loss, but we should live our lives passionately seeking meaning and the mystery of our existence, for then everything we experience, easy and difficult, serves a purpose and satisfies the hunger of the soul.

So, whether in prayer or in action or in attitude, we should be constantly calling out to the universe: “unravel for me the mystery of my existence.”

Teach me to worship Thee in breathlessness, in sleeplessness, in deathlessness.

Breathlessness, sleeplessness, deathlessness… Yogananda is here referring to common attributes of yogic samadhi. Samadhi is the yogic term for the ultimate union between the individual self and the Supreme Self. In this deepest meditative communion, the individual is often infused with a profoundly subtle air that renders the external breath less necessary. The breath may become so shallow that it completely stops or very nearly stops, and the body rests in a profound stillness.

As to sleeplessness, some yogis actually do not sleep. But, more broadly, this might be understood as the profound, continuing wakefulness of enlightened consciousness. The new awareness that one experiences in samadhi is like awakening from a lifelong sleep. To remain in this awakened awareness is to be “sleepless.”

And to be deathless… While there are certainly stories of deathless spiritual adepts in all traditions, spiritual deathlessness is not really describing someone whose body does not eventually die. With the profound awakening of samadhi, one is flooded with an utterly new sense of life. It is a state of being reborn or born anew. And though the body may yet experience illnesses, injuries, and eventually death, in this deepest communion you know yourself as beyond those experiences. Even when death claims the body in due course, you know well that it has no part of you. The body has its beginning and its ending, but you, in yourself, are simply as you are, without beginning or end. In the mystery of your existence, you dwell in an eternal state of being watching the phenomenal experiences pass through your awareness.

This is what we yearn to remember. Sincerely seeking this is true worship.

Paramahansa Yogananda, Paramahansa Yogananda poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Paramahansa Yogananda

India (1893 – 1952) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

More poetry by Paramahansa Yogananda

4 responses so far

Apr 09 2014

Anna Swir – Happy as a Dog’s Tail

Published by under Poetry

Happy as a Dog’s Tail
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

Happy as something unimportant
and free as a thing unimportant.
As something no one prizes
and which does not prize itself.
As something mocked by all
and which mocks at their mockery.
As laughter without serious reason.
As a yell able to outyell itself.
Happy as no matter what,
as any no matter what.

Happy
as a dog’s tail.

— from Talking to My Body, by Anna Swir / Translated by Czeslaw Milosz


/ Photo by Ivan M. Granger /

I should start by apologizing for the unannounced hiatus in the poetry emails recently. Those of you who follow my personal Facebook page know that I celebrated a birthday last week, but it was followed quickly by the unexpected death of a beloved family dog named Koda. He was part of our family for nine years. Koda was a rescued dog with significant behavioral issues that made day-to-day life challenging for us. But he was also a very loving and loyal companion. Both my wife and I formed a strong bond with Koda, made stronger because of his special needs and the challenges they created in our life.

My wife and I needed time to grieve and celebrate and bless Koda’s passing.

…And I thought this poem by Anna Swir would be sweet, simple eulogy — a reminder of how happiness is so perfectly embodied by a dog’s wagging tail.

Give your loved ones (those with a tail and those who are tailless) a big hug today.

Anna Swir, Anna Swir poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Anna Swir

Poland (1909 – 1984) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Anna Swir

6 responses so far

Mar 28 2014

R. S. Thomas – The Moor

Published by under Poetry

The Moor
by R. S. Thomas

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

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


/ Photo by xelcise /

Something for you today by the Welsh poet and clergyman, R. S. Thomas…

It was like a church to me.

Isn’t this a wonderful way to step into the wild?

I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.

The proper approach to the natural world — quiet, reverence, and receptivity.

This is one of the great gifts of living nature, it can release us from the endless mental and social constructions of humanity. We receive the opportunity to witness the wider reality. The limitations of our thoughts, our lives, the ambitions of the human world, are revealed amidst the larger landscape.

It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to…

Nature offers us a direct experience of communion. These are not sermons or discourses that pass through the ear to be sifted and sorted by the brain before, hopefully, some truth trickles into the deeper awareness. This is the living stillness touching the heart.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom.

Notice the break in the first line of the verse above. “There were no prayers said. But stillness–” By ending the line on “stillness,” the mind contemplating these words naturally halts, finding its own stillness. The mind unconsciously reads the line as if it was a complete sentence, “There were no prayers said, but stillness.” Stillness, then, becomes the prayer.

And the powerful line break dividing the second and third lines. We read them as, “That was praise!” followed by “Enough.” On a certain level that isolated “enough” captures the essence here: He is speaking of the stillness of the heart’s passions and the mind finally yielding it’s control. “Enough!” Enough of the busy mind and the hungry heart.

The quiet breath of the natural world remind us that stillness is the real praise, and prayer, and presence.

I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

Mmm.

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

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

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Mar 24 2014

Akka Mahadevi – Breath for fragrance

Published by under Poetry

Breath for fragrance
by Akka Mahadevi

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

Breath for fragrance,
who needs flowers?

With peace, patience, forgiving and self-command,
who needs the Ultimate Posture?

The whole world become oneself
who needs solitude,

O lord white as jasmine.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Photo by Healzo /

I apologize for the unannounced hiatus in the poetry emails. The past couple of weeks have been a masala mixture of technical problems one day, some busy projects with my day job, a bit of social time with friends, that demanding chronic fatigue, and the need for meditative moments too.

And Spring is upon us! (…for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. You Aussies and South Africans are training me well.)

A mantle of snow one day, and the next blue skies and the first tentative greens. Having endured winter’s solitary discipline, we lift our eyes and discover color once again. We find new warmth in the sunlight, the lungs expand, the heart beats more easily, life flows… and we notice the world once again.

==

I keep returning to the poetry of the great Mahadeviyakka. Her poetry continuously plays with the tension between the discipline of an accomplished yogini and the sheer delight of one whose heart has blossomed. Her words tease and dance and overturn the grim efforts our spiritual strivings.

Breath for fragrance,
who needs flowers?

On your walk you come upon an ornamental plum tree in early bloom. How can you not stop, stand on your toes and bring your nose close to a pink blossom and inhale the sweet perfume? It speaks to us of beauty, joy, life. The flower’s fragrance has led us to our breath and to the present moment.

When we have already learned to live in the fulness of our breath, our teacher the flower has done her job. (Though I myself am not bold enough to cast all flowers aside.)

With peace, patience, forgiving and self-command,
who needs the Ultimate Posture?

Isn’t this a wonderful insight? Each religion and spiritual tradition has its own particular obsessions. In yoga, especially in hatha yoga, there is a strong conceptual link between asana (“seat” or “posture”) and the spiritual energetics of body and awareness. The “Ultimate Posture” or “Supreme Seat” can be understood in the literal sense as attaining and maintaining the perfect physical posture, or it can be understood as being seated in awakened awareness.

Mahadevi cuts through the accumulated centuries of psycho-spiritual technicalities and postural perfectionism, reminding us that when we have attained peace, patience, forgiveness, and mastery, that is itself the Ultimate Posture.

The whole world become oneself
who needs solitude

And in deepest communion, when the little self has melted into the living Self of all selves, then there is only Self. Why then isolate yourself to be by yourself? In a closet or in a crowd, we are seated majestically in the Self, every rising thought and new encounter carries the blessing of self-recognition.

Akka Mahadevi, Akka Mahadevi poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Akka Mahadevi

India (12th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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