Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Mar 09 2016

Rabia – Through and Through

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Through and Through
by Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Steadfast friend,
You have hewn me
      through and through!

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.
And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.


/ Image by Marc Brueneke /

In my youth, I tended toward extremes. Perhaps it was that Aries flame that only my wife seems to recognize in me these days. I so wanted that intangible thing we might call spiritual awakening, but how does one attain something so evanescent and undefined? For most people, it is pure fantasy, if it is thought of it at all, so I decided that following the common life and the common mind was clearly useless. I imagined that only by going to ever greater extremes might I step free from the mundane and, perhaps, achieve my goal. I pushed and strained and isolated myself until I became a fragile young man, barely holding myself together. Still I stumbled forward in meditation and prayer, fasting and reading and walking in the woods, while locked in a resentful tug-of-war with the daily requirements of work and relationship and home.

Steadfast friend,
You have hewn me
      through and through!

One day, I found myself sitting there at the age of thirty-three, trying unsuccessfully to calm my mind in meditation, lost in my confused life. I had steady work alongside kind people, but I did it minimally and with little interest. I had a loving, patient wife who put up with my moods and odd practices. I lived, at the time, in a small cabin in a gorgeous and remote corner of the island of Maui. I had all of these blessings in my life, yet I fought them constantly, as if they were hinderances. And my spiritual practices, which were my entire focus, seemed to have led me nowhere. I was lost.

It was a devastating moment of self-assessment. I admitted to myself something I had been fighting my entire life to ignore: I wasn’t special. I didn’t know what I was doing in life. And, frankly, I was a bit of a flake. Oh, sure, I was kind. I genuinely cared about people. I was reasonably intelligent and insightful. And I was sincere. But all in all, I was not the spiritual superman of my fantasies.

Looking at myself and my life in that way, I finally saw myself honestly, as I was. And I was surprised by the thought that followed, that it was all okay.

And that’s when it hit me, the most profound wave of bliss. All of my thoughts fell utterly silent. I let the current of that upward welling delight wash over all that I was until there was nothing left. All that remained was a spacious, blissful silence. And I floated in that bliss for months.

When I chose to think, one of the thoughts I had was that all of the suffering and struggle, all of my extremes were worth it. Though that’s not quite it, since that suggests that strain was somehow the payment required. No, it was more the sense that the struggle was actually inconsequential, just a story I told myself until I finally gave myself permission to settle into the expansive bliss that always awaited. So were those extremes ever necessary?

Here’s the thing about this poem that sparked this entire story, those final lines:

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.
And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.

As the months passed and I resumed the rhythms of my life, I began to notice that I was no longer continuously resting in the blissful open state. There were times I was once again hooked by old mental habits and fixations. Thoughts arose once again, unbidden and uncontrolled. That tension in the awareness, that old ego-self, subtly reemerged. Not entirely, and not at all times, but it came and went, and if I wasn’t paying attention I sometimes missed the shift in my own awareness.

And I was confronted with a new challenge: Do I pretend that fluctuation in my level of awareness is not occurring? I could have fooled myself if I chose. I could have held the memory of bliss in my mind and savored it as if it was the sweet substance itself. I had been doing a little bit of that already without being fully aware of it. But, no, I had always resolved that total honesty with myself was the only way.

That didn’t mean those beautiful months in the sea of bliss were a phase of my life that had now past. I decided, instead, to discover what this bliss was, to find out how it released itself into my awareness… and how I could more consciously yield myself into its embrace. I became a student of myself.

And, the other thing, after a lifetime of unbalanced extremes, I resolved to cultivate balance, and to integrate my inner life with my outer life. I decided to figure out what it means to be a married man with a job and rent to pay, someone with a few health challenges, an American man moving into the middle age of life, and yet remain someone with a rich inner life who makes room for blissful moments. How does one not only cultivate inner peace but also embody that peace in the thousand small actions that make up the day of a normal life? And, being fully honest with myself, on this pathway I am still a clumsy beginner in so many ways. But I am learning.

Perhaps the most essential thing I have learned is that, for me, at this stage at least, the goal is not all bliss all the time. In recent years I am not so much trying to be a holy man as to be a wholly honest man. I try to use everything my life offers. When bliss and egolessness offer themselves to my awareness, I try to let them flow unhindered. I try to let them speak through my words.

When I speak, my every word
      speaks of You.

But those spiritual dry spells, perhaps unavoidable in the midst of a busy life, when they come, I don’t fight them either. I let them ache and sear their way through me. They re-magnetize the soul, keeping it oriented toward its source and its purpose. And, what’s more, when we let it, that ache itself reveals itself to be another doorway to the Eternal.

And when silent,
      silently I ache for You.

That ache reveals itself to be one more point of contact, a gentle touch, a kiss of remembrance when the psyche has grown tense and distracted. See for yourself. Grow silent. Feel that ache. Relax into it and see what happens.

Part of the art is to recognize connection in everything. We can discover union even in the midst of separation.

This is what I have come to see as balance, to not run from spiritual emptiness and, at the same time, to not become brittle or false in the pursuit of spiritual fulness. To embrace both and use both fully. Balance instead of my youthful extremes. That life rhythm of full to empty, empty to full, like a tidal current working together they carry us out to sea when we let it.


Recommended Books: Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality)
More Books >>


Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

Iraq (717 – 801) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Mar 02 2016

Wang Wei – Cooling Off

Published by under Poetry

Cooling Off
by Wang Wei

English version by Willis Barnstone

Clear waters drift through the immensity of a tall forest.
In front of me a huge river mouth
receives the long wind.
Deep ripples hold white sand
and white fish swimming as in a void.
I sprawl on a big rock,
billows nourishing my humble body.
I gargle with water and wash my feet.
A fisherman pauses out on the surf.
So many fish long for bait. I look
only to the east with its lotus leaves.

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


/ Image by mckaysavage /

One way to understand this poem is to read the “clear waters” as the mind when it is still and pure. The mind becomes free from the silt of projections, it becomes clear, empty, the “void” in which the fish swim.

The sand and the fish are white, hinting at the golden-white radiance often perceived in meditative ecstasy.

He “gargles” with water, suggesting the sense of drinking or swallowing a pure substance — the celestial drink. And he washes his feet, the foundation of awareness, in the purity of this “water.”

“So many fish long for bait.” The fish, here, are the remnants of darting thoughts. They long for “bait,” to be fed with constant attention, the busyness of the discursive mind. But the “fisherman,” the meditator, simply pauses, watching them without hooking them.

Wang Wei looks to the east, the direction of the rising sun and spiritual illumination, where the “lotus leaves” of the awakened consciousness open.


Recommended Books: Wang Wei

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry Three Chinese Poets: Translations of Poems by Wang Wei, Li Bai, and Du Fu An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911


Wang Wei, Wang Wei poetry, Buddhist poetry Wang Wei

China (699? – 761) Timeline
Buddhist
Taoist

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Feb 29 2016

Mary Oliver – Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?

Published by under Poetry

Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?
by Mary Oliver

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives —
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!

To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome
with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
present hour,
to the song falling out of the mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened

in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,

and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild roses:
deny me not,
      but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what’s coming next
is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn’t ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

— from West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by Torpe /

Somehow I thought this would be a good poem to honor Leap Day…

This poem speaks to us on so many levels, and it is telling us that the living world of nature does so as well.

Well, there is time left —
fields everywhere invite you into them.

Trees and fields, flowers and stones, they embody the outer world, yes, but they are also the doorway to the inner. The natural world is the doorway to ourselves.

Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

We’ve trained ourselves to glance and not see. But that is precisely the purpose of the human soul, to deeply witness. Anything less, anything too busy to see, becomes mere existence.

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window…

And that leaves us terribly bereft, living in a world devoid of depth, alienated from our own purpose and true selves…

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

The solution is to slow, to stop, to look, and finally to see. Seeing, we connect — with each other, and with the earth, the earth and her multiform mystery.

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!

The process of being an individual trying to find a place in the human world can be exhausting, but we can never forget that we must first find a place in the community of life upon the earth. The human endeavor, rich and tragic and wonderful, loses its meaning — and its ability to continue — when separated from its larger family of living beings and its mysterious mother, the living earth.

I ramble my way home.


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light American Primitive What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems
More Books >>


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

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 26 2016

Abhishiktananda – Arunachala is a symbol

Published by under Poetry

Arunachala is a symbol
by Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

Arunachala is a symbol
and Arunachala is a Reality,
a high-place of the Dravidian land,
all ruddy, aruna, in the rays of the rising sun,
where is worshipped the linga of fire,
the elemental sign of the Living God,
he who appeared to Moses in the burning bush
and on the summit of Mount Horeb,
Fire that burns and Fire that gives light,
Deus Ignis consumens
Lux mundi
Paramjyoti
Phos hilaron

the joyful light of the immortal glory
of the Blessed One,
Bhagavan!

For there at the dawn of time was standing
the column of fire
of which Brahma could not reach the summit
nor could Vishnu find its foot,
symbol as it was of unfathomable Love–
Anbe Shivam
which is the very ground of Being.

Later it took the form of a sapphire;
and then, in the evil times of our kaliyuga,
the Linga of fire became stone
for the blessing of mankind,
the sacred Mountain,
achala,
which the Lord set firmly on its foundation
and which is never shaken.

To its caves, age after age, there has come a succession
of those who are hungry for wisdom and renunciation,
whom the Mountain, the divine Magnet,
draws to its bosom,
to teach them in its own silence
the royal path of the supreme Silence,
and how to be established in the Self–
achala, atmanishtha.

From its sides there flow springs
sublimely named–
“The spring of the milk of grace”
“Milk from the breast of the divine Mother”–
where pilgrims come
to bathe and drink.

And finally, from its crest on the great day of Thibam,
when the Sun sinks in the west,
and the full moon of Karttiki
rises above the horizon,
there shoots up the Column of Fire,
which reveals the secret of Light.
hidden in the heart of the Mountain!

*

From the very Depth of Arunachala’s Heart
there sounds a call
to him who speeds towards the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala;
but he who enters into the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
has lost even his own name
and all that till then he was;
so that henceforth he is only the dweller in the Depth,
the one who lives within the Cave
of the Heart of Arunachala;
he has entered his own Depth,
has been swallowed up in the Self,
having discovered at the deepest centre of himself
the secret of Arunachala.

But for him who at last reaches the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
does there still remain a Depth?
Is there still an Arunachala?
What has become of the Mountain,
rosy-coloured Arunachala?
Where now are the springs
on the sides of Arunachala?
What has happened to the Light,
on the crest of Arunachala?

The caves themselves have vanished,
and with them the hermits of Arunachala;
has not he himself also disappeared,
swallowed up in the Depth
of the Heart of Arunachala,
merged in the Self,
the Unique Arunachala?

— from The Secret of Arunachala: A Christian Hermit on Shiva’s Holy Mountain, by Swami Abhishiktananda


/ Image by prem /

Arunachala is a symbol
and Arunachala is a Reality…

Arunachala is a sacred mountain in the Tamil regions of southern India. It is said to be an embodiment of the god Shiva, and has attracted the spiritually minded for centuries. It is the site of an ancient temple and several ashrams.

It is said that a dispute once arose between the three gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva over who was greater. Lord Shiva, to prove is endlessness, manifested as an immense column or Lingam of light, and the other gods were unable see his beginning or end.

For there at the dawn of time was standing
the column of fire
of which Brahma could not reach the summit
nor could Vishnu find its foot…

As the ages passed and the materialistic Kali Yuga came, Shiva’s column of light took on the material form of a mountain — Arunachala — so spiritual seekers caught up in the increasingly materialistic world would still be able to witness divinity.

the Linga of fire became stone
for the blessing of mankind,
the sacred Mountain…

In this way, spiritual seekers understand Arunachala to be both a symbol of God and also an embodiment of the Ultimate Reality.

In recent times Arunachala has become especially associated with the greatly revered nondualist sage Ramana Maharshi, who took up residence at the holy site at the end of the 19th century until his death in 1950.

From the very Depth of Arunachala’s Heart
there sounds a call…

This poem uses so many Sanskrit and Latin phrases, that you may have to approach it like a puzzle, filling in the pieces using the following notes. It may require a bit of extra work, but it’s worth it. Some beautiful and profound concepts are being suggested with these words…

aruna — “Reddish brown” or “ruddy.” This can be used as a reference to the sun god Surya.

achala — “Immovable” or “mountain”

The name Arunachala can be understood to suggest that the mountain is the light of the sun standing still — Lord Shiva’s column of light.

As a Catholic priest, Abhishiktananda naturally gives us a few elevating Latin phrases:

Deus Ignis consumens – “God the consuming Fire”

Lux mundi – “The Light of the world”

Phos hilaron – “The joyful Light”

And back to his adopted Hindu Sanskrit:

Paramjyoti – Jyoti means light and param means the ultimate or supreme, so paramjyoti means “the supreme Light”

Bhagavan – “Lord” A respectful title used for divine figures and spiritual masters, often bestowed on Ramana Maharshi, the sage most associated with Arunachala.

Anbe Shivam – “Shiva is Love” or “God is Love”

atmanishtha – The atma is the true Self, the divine Self realized in enlightenment. Nishtha implies fullness, faith, steadiness. So atmanishtha means to be “established or abiding in the divine Self.”

Karttiki & Thibam – Karttiki or Kartikai is the month between mid-November and mid-December. Thibam (more commonly written today as Deepam) is a Hindu Tamil Festival of Lights that occurs in the month of Kartikai. He is describing a specific full moon night of the year during a holy celebration of lights when Arunachala itself is seen as a living embodiment of “the secret light.”

When we follow Abhishiktananda’s trail around the mountain of immortal light with its secret springs and sacred depths, along with him we discover a unity beyond self and beyond place.

he has entered his own Depth,
has been swallowed up in the Self,
having discovered at the deepest centre of himself
the secret of Arunachala.


Recommended Books: Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

Guru and Disciple: An Encounter with Sri Gnanananda, a Contemporary Spiritual Master The Secret of Arunachala: A Christian Hermit on Shiva’s Holy Mountain The Further Shore Swami Abhishiktananda: Essential Writings Prayer
More Books >>


Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux), Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux) poetry, Christian poetry Abhishiktananda, Swami (Henri Le Saux)

France, India (1910 – 1973) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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Feb 24 2016

Yoka Genkaku – The hungry are served a king’s repast

Published by under Poetry

The hungry are served a king’s repast (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

The hungry are served a king’s repast,
And they cannot eat.
The sick meet the king of doctors;
Why don’t they recover?
The practice of Zen in this greedy world —
This is the power of wise vision.
The lotus lives in the midst of the fire;
It is never destroyed.


/ Image by ursrules1 /

I am back. I appreciate you patience with me. Another challenging period with chronic fatigue. Each time I learn a few new steps in the dance…

I have passed over this verse from The Shodoka before without paying much attention, but reading it this morning it struck me as powerful for the first time. The words aren’t especially poetic, but it unlocks many thoughts as I read it.

The hungry are served a king’s repast,
And they cannot eat.
The sick meet the king of doctors;
Why don’t they recover?

I take the king here to refer to the Buddha. The “king’s repast” would be the teachings of the Buddha. The medicine offered by the “king of doctors” would be the relief from suffering as one walks the path of wisdom.

These gifts are available to all, yet most of humanity seems unwilling partake and unable to even recognize that it is what we all hunger for amidst our confusion and suffering. Sadly, this blindness to our basic need is the common state “in this greedy world.”

But, regardless of how few actively walk the path, regardless of how lost and chaotic the world may seem, the way of truth remains:

The lotus lives in the midst of the fire;
It is never destroyed.

But also, reading this verse, do you by any chance think of the story of King Midas? The king’s repast that cannot be eaten and the mention of a greedy world… Ever since childhood, I have been fascinated with the Greek myths, and it seems to me that most people don’t quite recognize the message of the Midas myth. It depends on how much of the story one knows and how deeply it has been contemplated.

Many just know the phrase that someone “has the Midas touch,” that is, everything they touch turns to gold. If that’s all one knows, then the Midas touch is imagined to be a good thing. Look at the businesses that foolishly incorporate Midas into their business name. The notion that turning everything into gold is a good thing is precisely the opposite meaning of the myth. It is the very delusion that King Midas himself suffered from.

For those who know a little more of the story, they see it as a comical tale about the problems of greed. That is closer to the truth, but it still misses the world-threatening horror of uncontrolled greed suggested by this powerful Greek myth.

A quick recap of the tale: Midas was a foolish, small-minded king who was granted a wish by one of the gods. He requested the boon that whatever he touched be turned to gold — which he immediately received. Thrilled with this new power, he raced back to his palace, touching trees and animals and everything as he went, turning all to gold. Arriving at his palace, he was famished, so he had food brought to him. But as soon as he put the food in his mouth, it turned to gold and became inedible. In desperation, he grabbed a flagon of wine to drink from it, but he nearly choked when it too immediately turned to gold. In his horror, he cried out, which brought his daughter running to him. Frightened by his demeanor, she ran into his arms… and, yes, was turned to gold. The gods, in order to prevent the entire world being turned into gold — which would be its destruction — eventually intervened and removed the power from King Midas’s touch, but leaving him a broken man.

If we think about the implications of this story, especially in this modern era of hypercapitalism, it illustrates the terrible world created by commodifying everything and everyone. When people and things are only seen in terms of their quantifiable economic value, we end up turning living beings and the planet itself into dead wealth. When an entire society is built on the King Midas model, the only question is, will Midas starve to death before he destroys the entire world?

When we are enthralled by the perspective of the “greedy world” we measure all of life’s pathways and experiences using a crippled calculus. Spiritual truths, deep meaning, inherent dignity– there is no column on our ledger for these things, and so they become unreal to us, valueless, invisible. In the greedy world’s cost-benefit analysis, we become unable to eat the king’s repast or receive the medicine from the king of doctors. People end up starving, not from lack of food, but because the food, which is widely available, remains unseen.

What then is the solution? On the personal, most human level, we remember how to see what is commonly overlooked. We remember to feel what the inner heart tells us is worth feeling. And we learn to measure real value against the measure and aspiration of the human spirit. In this way, slowly, steadily, we recover the full vision of ourselves and the world as an interwoven living panorama rich with endless shadings and illuminations of meaning and value.

The practice of Zen in this greedy world —
This is the power of wise vision.


Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

Buddhism and Zen


Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

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

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Feb 12 2016

Rasakhan – Nectar Radha

Published by under Poetry

Nectar Radha
by Rasakhan

English version by Shyamdas

When Radha’s eyes bashfully meet Hari’s,
      their delightful gestures
            entice His heart.

Her enchanting banter swindles His mind.
      Her words divulge an exquisite disposition.

She puts Her lips to His,
      filling that Abode of elixir
            with the nectar of Her very soul.

Although Krishna is an expert in all of love’s spells,
      Radha captivates God
            with a few soft syllables.

— from Treasure House of Love: Poems of Rasakhan, Translated by Shyamdas


/ Image by Vishnu108 /

How about some bhakti verses in honor of Valentine’s Day?

As with many bhakti poems, this is, on the surface, a poem of lovers, Radha and Krishna (also referred to as Hari). But these, like the Song of Songs in the Bible, are usually understood to reflect deeper spiritual truths. Radha is the soul, the spiritual seeker. Krishna is the one the soul seeks, the eternal Beloved, God. Radha’s yearning and seeking is the spiritual journey. Their love play is spiritual union.

Most bhakti poems dwell on how Krishna’s enchanting beauty draws Radha (the soul) to him. God/Krishna is, after all, “an expert in all of love’s spells,” for all sincere seekers are in love with the Divine One. In truth, every soul, no matter how closed off, has a deep-seated hunger for something, and that yearning, whether recognized or not, is ultimately for the eternal Beloved. Every single being is caught up in Krisnha’s love spell.

But these lines by Rasakhan point out that there is a reciprocal attraction, as well. The soul doesn’t just reach out to the Divine. Turning eager eyes toward the Beloved magnetically draws the Divine to the individual soul, as well. When done with total sincerity and with one’s full, unedited being, a response from the Beloved becomes unavoidable.

In this way, “Radha captivates God / with a few soft syllables.” The soul and God draw each other, the two becoming enfolded within their mutual love.

Have a beautiful Valentine’s Day with your beloved / Beloved.


Recommended Books: Rasakhan

Treasure House of Love: Poems of Rasakhan


Rasakhan

India (1534? – 1619?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 10 2016

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Fasting

Published by under Poetry

Fasting
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring. Don’t give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,
Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast, this table
spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.

— from The Illuminated Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks / Michael Green


/ Image by bennylin0724 /

I featured this poem and commentary a few years ago, but I thought it would be appropriate to send it out again today since it is Ash Wednesday — a Muslim poem on fasting in solidarity with all of my Christian friends beginning Lent.

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.

Fasting is something we’re not too comfortable with in the affluent West. Even though all religious traditions, including Christianity and Judaism, have rich, ancient traditions of fasting, we often don’t have a real sense of what spirituality has to do with food — or its avoidance. We tend to take a rather intellectual approach to spirituality. Even in modern New Age teachings, we have the notion that all we have to do is change our thinking and transformation occurs. But the results of that approach are often spotty. One reason is that mind is much more than thoughts, and transforming the mind requires deeper work. Thoughts are built on ingrained energetic patterns. For real transformation to occur, we have to get down to those foundational patterns. Very often this requires not merely changing one’s thoughts, but tunneling beneath them. This is the purpose of deeper spiritual practice.

Fasting is a simple, universal, and powerful way to clear the mind and confront those more fundamental energies in the awareness.

But why? What does food have to do with any of this? We are not two things, a mind separate from a body, or even a mind that inhabits a body. The mind and body interpenetrate one another. If your body is injured, that physical pain demands attention, affecting the awareness. The state of the body impacts the clarity and focus of the mind. Feeding the body pure, healthy foods in general, and periodically allowing it to rest from the tiring work of digestion can profoundly free up energies for the awareness to tap into.

Here’s something else you won’t hear much: Food is a drug. Every food is a narcotic. Does that sound bizarre to you? I don’t mean that normal foods are literally hallucinogenic. But every single thing you put into your mouth affects consciousness in some way. We use food to control emotions. We use food to shift moods and change awareness. Think of the instinct to grab a pint of ice cream from the freezer after a terrible breakup. Everything, even a salad, affects consciousness in some way. The resulting psychic shift after eating something can be relatively positive or relatively negative. It can help us to feel solid and grounded or expanded and open. It can tantalize the senses and flood us with feelings of satiation or leave us frustrated. None of this is necessarily bad, but we must understand how profoundly food affects awareness, and utilize food wisely… and sometimes not consume food at all.

A fascinating thing happens when you fast as part of a spiritual practice: After you ease past the initial psychic tension and your body moves through any initial discomforts — the mind naturally settles and grows quiet. So much of the agitation of the mind arises from the foods we eat.

Recognizing this, food and fasting become an important part of spiritual practice.

The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.

The first few times I tried to do just a one day fast, I was frankly terrified. I knew intellectually that a healthy human body can go for days without food, no problem. Many times in the past I had forgotten to eat breakfast, and it was no big deal, but on a day when I intentionally decided to fast, I’d be sweating and panicky by mid-morning. It took me a while to understand that fasting, even a mild fast, is a confrontation with death. It is the willingness to temporarily abandon that constant hunt to satisfy every desire by attempting to slough off the fundamental hunger for food. How do you just have a desire and sit with it, without attempting to immediately satisfy it? That’s a pretty frightening question, when you really ask it.

With a little practice, you discover that what we often assume is physical hunger is actually mental hunger. For well-fed Westerners, it can take days, literally days, for true physical hunger to arise. The hunger we feel when we miss a couple of meals is really just mental habit, the reflexive desire to use food in order to regulate consciousness and control emotion. Follow that reflex to its root, and we find it originating from the ever-fearful ego, which is endlessly attempting to reinforce its fragile construction of a limited self inside a limited world by keeping the mind perpetually agitated.

Fasting, used carefully, with balance, and as part of a larger spiritual practice, becomes a way to help identify and unseat the despotic ego.

This is why fasting is practiced in all religions. And you don’t even have to have a religious “faith.” Just try it sometime, for a day, for half a day, wrestle your way through, and see what happens in you.

Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.


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 Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Open Secret: Versions of Rumi
More Books >>


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

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

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Feb 05 2016

A. R. Ammons – Poetics

Published by under Poetry

Poetics
by A. R. Ammons

I look for the way
things will turn
out spiraling from a center,
the shape
things will take to come forth in

so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
wind-glittering
totally its apparent self:

I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will
unfold:

not the shape on paper — though
that, too — but the
uninterfering means on paper:

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

— from Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971, by A. R. Ammons


/ Image by Randy Son Of Robert /

I look for the way
things will turn
out spiraling from a center…

This poem is a delightful meditation on how form emerges “spiraling from a center” of essential nature.

I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will
unfold:

Form is the expression of a more subtle foundation. Ammons is using the world of color and shape as an exercise for the awareness, a way of looking at the outer to discover the inner.

Looking at the world this way, a stillness settles on us, and we begin to see the stillness of things, even in their movement. And we start to recognize how shape and color both hide and reveal the true nature of things.

so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
wind-glittering
totally its apparent self:

Looking at the world this way, the perceptual wall between ourselves and what we witness fades away, and we become something new, bigger, open, a collective unity, “the self not mine but ours”…

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

Wonderful!


Recommended Books: A. R. Ammons

Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971 Brink Road: Poems Selected Poems A Coast of Trees: Poems by A R Ammons Uplands: New Poems by A R Ammons
More Books >>


A. R. Ammons, A. R. Ammons poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry A. R. Ammons

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 03 2016

Jacopone da Todi – Love, where did You enter the heart unseen?

Published by under Poetry

Love, where did You enter the heart unseen? (from In Praise of Divine Love)
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

Love, where did You enter the heart unseen?
Lovable Love, joyful Love, unthinkable Love,
In Your plenitude You lie far beyond the reach of reason.

Love, jocund and joyous,
Divine fire, You do not stint
Of your endlessly beautiful riches.

— from Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality), Translated by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes


/ Image by eggybird /

In these lines, the word “Love” almost becomes a chant: “Lovable Love, joyful Love, unthinkable Love…” The phrases invite repetition, circling round and round in the awareness until they lead to the very subject which they praise.

And what a delightful phrase: — “Love, jocund and joyous.” Those words roll around on the tongue like melting chocolate.

There are several key phrases here that particularly grab my attention:

Love, where did You enter the heart unseen?

In states of deep spiritual communion, when the agitations of the mind are at rest and the attention is not seeking outward distractions, all awareness settles into the heart, touching everything without the need to reach out to do so. It is an experience of expansiveness without movement, of absolute contentment and interconnection… and an experience of all-encompassing love.

What is often surprising is the recognition that this inner heart, this spiritual heart has always been at rest in this profound state of love, even though we somehow have spent years not recognizing it. It is as if a thief has stolen unseen into the heart, but riches are given rather than taken. Treasures are suddenly scattered everywhere through the heart — even far into the forgotten past.

Love, jocund and joyous…

A giddy joy comes upon us in the ecstatic state, felt especially as a spreading warmth upon the heart. This is greater and, at the same time subtler, than what is normally called happiness. Happiness is sharp-edged and fleeting, but this joy is filled with peace and completely independent of external circumstances. This quiet bliss is steady and radiant.

Divine fire, You do not stint…

In deep spiritual ecstasy, there is often a sense of heat — filled with immense love — that permeates the body. This is such a wonderful fire that mystics often describe it as the flame of love.

This love is not some philosophical notion, it’s not some passing emotion, it is simply, inexplicably there, quietly glowing within each heart, waiting to be discovered.

Lovable Love, joyful Love, unthinkable Love…


PS- Do you want in on a secret? I have quietly begun work on a new Poetry Chaikhana anthology. I hope to have it ready for you this summer.

Actually, I am also thinking of putting together a small book of the ‘Thought for the Day’ sayings, as well. What do you think? Will that make a good book?


Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality) All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time


Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti), Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti) poetry, Christian poetry Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Jan 27 2016

Mary Oliver – The Lark

Published by under Poetry

The Lark
by Mary Oliver

And I have seen,
at dawn,
the lark
spin out of the long grass

and into the pink air —
its wings,
which are neither wide
nor overstrong,

fluttering —
the pectorals
ploughing and flashing
for nothing but altitude —

and the song
bursting
all the while
from the red throat.

And then he descends,
and is sorry.
His little head hangs
and he pants for breath

for a few moments
among the hoops of the grass,
which are crisp and dry,
where most of his living is done —

and then something summons him again
and up he goes,
his shoulders working,
his whole body almost collapsing and floating

to the edges of the world.
We are reconciled, I think,
to too much.
Better to be a bird, like this one —

an ornament of the eternal.
As he came down once, to the nest of the grass,
“Squander the day, but save the soul,”
I heard him say.

— from What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by kkart /

Something about those closing lines brings a smile to my face:

“Squander the day, but save the soul,”
I heard him say.

It reminds me of Whitman’s great line: “I loaf and invite my soul.”

A reminder for us all today from the simple wisdom of the lark to be at ease in the timeless. That God-self in each one of us, it is recognized in deep peace, not in our endless doings…

Remember to do a little wise squandering today! 🙂


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light American Primitive What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems
More Books >>


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

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Jan 22 2016

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – Rise early at dawn

Published by under Poetry

Rise early at dawn, when our storytelling begins
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

Rise early at dawn, when our storytelling begins.
In the dead of the night, when all other doors are locked,
the door for the Lovers to enter opens.
Be wide awake in the dark when Lovers
begin fluttering around the Beloved’s window,
like homing pigeons arriving with flaming bodies.

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


/ Image by legends2k /

I admit, I may have arisen a little after dawn this morning, but reading these words by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir makes me want to wake up full of energy in the middle of the night. That’s when our storytelling begins.

Actually, let’s not hurry past that reference to storytelling. It’s in the darkness that we tell stories. In a world before electricity or gas lights, nighttime is the end of activity. So we tell stories. Nighttime is when we normally sleep, and dream.

But most of us do this rather passively. We listen to another person’s story. Or in the modern world, perhaps we watch television. We go to sleep, we dream, we wake up, we forget.

Not so for the seeker. The stories we tell ourselves are the stories of the soul, the way the self understands itself. In dreams and stories we reformulate our perception of the world, deepen it. And in doing so the psyche becomes more dynamic and alive to its own possibilities.

Most people imagine life shuts down at night, but a lover knows better. When the rest of the world rests, the lover finds those sweet illicit moments with the Beloved. Even if it’s just a glimpse, a smile through the window’s lattice, that is what the lover lives for. We light up, we catch fire in the night.


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) 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 The Mystics of Islam
More Books >>


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 20 2016

Mahmud Shabistari – The Marriage of the Soul

Published by under Poetry

The Marriage of the Soul (from The Secret Rose Garden)
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Florence Lederer

Descending to the earth, that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world
lurks in the elements of nature.

And the soul of man,
who has attained the rightful balance,
becoming aware of this hidden joy,
straightaway is enamored and bewitched.

And from this mystic marriage are born
the poets’ songs, inner knowledge,
the language of the heart, virtuous living,
and the fair child Beauty.

And the Great Soul gives to man as dowry
the hidden glory of the world.

— from The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari, Translated by Florence Lederer / Edited by David Fideler


/ Image by LaurenCalaway /

Descending to the earth, that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world
lurks in the elements of nature.

To dive more deeply into the meaning of these verses, first we need to recognize who “that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world” is. Of course, Shabistari is referring to God, the subtle divine presence hidden within the seemingly tangible, concrete world of daily experience.

And the soul of man,
who has attained the rightful balance,
becoming aware of this hidden joy,
straightaway is enamored and bewitched.

As we, through spiritual practice and intelligent yielding, attain “the rightful balance,” we can directly perceive that presence within everything, everywhere, most importantly within ourselves. And, perhaps surprisingly, we discover that it is a “joy.” Accompanying this recognition of the divine presence everywhere is a flood of bliss and delight. How can a lover of God not then be “enamored and bewitched”?

And from this mystic marriage are born
the poets’ songs, inner knowledge,
the language of the heart, virtuous living,
and the fair child Beauty.

I think I particularly like these lines. This is the moment that various traditions refer to as the mystic marriage, the unio mystica — Union. This moment of profoundest Oneness between the individual soul and the universal divine is the root experience of all spirituality. You may be aware that the word “yoga” means to yoke or join… in union, but we forget that the word “religion” itself means to reconnect or rejoin; they are essentially the same word. All of these words speak to us of union. This is the core impulse of every religion and spiritual tradition: The Marriage of the Soul.

That mystic marriage is not just a giddy experience of bliss; something is unlocked within the individual. The mystic perceive oneself and reality differently, but also unexpected gifts and creativity are revealed within the renewed mind. Not uncommonly, mystics begin to write poetry… or, if they have been writing poetry all along, their poetry takes on a new life, a deeper resonance that carries the breath of the mysteries. (This is why there is such an overlap in the ancient world between poetry and mysticism.)

Mystics also speak of “knowledge” or gnosis, but it is not knowledge in the sense of information or data. It is true that one’s intuition may be heightened, but the inner knowledge referred to here is more of a sense of awareness. It is as if one floats in the vast ocean of knowingness. It is more of an all-encompassing recognition of meaning and interrelationship, the sense that this living meaning somehow flows through all of existence, unifying everything in a living self-awareness.

In mystical union, there is less separation between the conscious self and the heart of one’s being. In other words, that union is not just about the connection between the individual and some external sense of God or universal consciousness; all the disparate parts within the individual are unified, as well. It is an interior marriage as much as an exterior marriage. That spiritual union results in an interior harmony — which we might call “the fair child Beauty.”

And the Great Soul gives to man as dowry
the hidden glory of the world.

That pervading beauty and harmony, that creativity and knowledge, that centering within the full self, all of that is the wedding gift the mystic receives, which, in turn, becomes the mystic’s gift to the world.


Recommended Books: Mahmud Shabistari

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari Beyond Faith and Infidelity: The Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari


Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 15 2016

R. S. Thomas – But the silence in the mind

Published by under Poetry

But the silence in the mind
by R. S. Thomas

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean.
We launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

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


/ Image by MindSqueeZe /

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best…

Isn’t this poem delightful in its stillness?

This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean.

I particularly like the image of launching an armada of thoughts out on the bottomless ocean of silent mind.

We launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

The silence is so vast that the thoughts can never arrive; they just fade into the misty distances. The image puts proper scale to our thoughts. They are tiny products that barely have substance amidst the great expanse we discover in silence.

The silence is seen, then, not as a negation or emptiness, but an overlooked, all-encompasing dimension of reality and being:

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins

And it is a challenge to us, a beckoning call…

that calls us out over our
own fathoms.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, when the first personal computers started to become available. And, yes, I was one of those nerdy computer kids, spending hours in front of the computer screen, when I wasn’t down at the neighborhood arcade feeding quarters into Pac Man and Space Invaders. It was a new medium, a new world built of light, different ways to display light, manipulate light, and finding meaning in that light. The mathematics, art, and movement of light were mesmerizing.

But once the giddiness and sense of power wears off, you realize how restless that world is. The human mind, never much at ease in any historical period, now has endless promptings to remain entranced and agitated.

I went through a period when I rejected computers and as many other elements of modern technology as I could. I desperately wanted to find out what it meant to live in the essential state of being human. What did it mean to be human 500 years ago? 5,000 years ago? What is the essential human experience of life and self-awareness?

I began to seek remote places in nature, where I could meditate and fast.

I wanted to discover that “silence in the mind” that brings us–

…within
listening distance of the silence
we call God.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m a modern person, a product of the modern era. I would greatly resent being thrust back into some previous era. I don’t take the freedoms and possibilities of my modern life for granted.

But we so miss having a place in society for silence. We are given very little encouragement to cultivate stillness. More than ever we must fight to create the space for silence in our lives. I feel great love and respect for all you misfits and spiritual revolutionaries out there quietly holding ajar the doorways to silence. You are the hope of the world.

What to do
but draw a little nearer…?

…All this, typed on a computer, sent out over the Internet. (Ivan, still trying to find ways to make light move, yet in ways that inspire peace.)


Recommended Books: R. S. Thomas

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


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

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

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Jan 12 2016

Rainer Maria Rilke – A Walk

Published by under Poetry

A Walk
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Robert Bly

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance–

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

— from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Robert Bly


/ Image by Sergiba /

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.

This is a fascinating truth that we tend to forget in the hard materiality of the modern world-view: We do not only touch the things with which we come into physical contact. We are often just as profoundly affected by what we see, even when it is out of our reach or not yet within our reach in the physical sense. Sight is a form of touch. It is contact. We touch, and are touched by, what we see.

Rilke’s insight invites us to expand our understanding further still. If what we see with our eyes is a vital sort of contact, then, naturally, what we see, but not with our eyes is just as vital. What we imagine, what we daydream, what we plan, what comes to us in dreams and meditative vision, these touch us too. They affect us. We react to them. They nurture us, feed us, or they may unsettle us and break our hearts.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance–

Real touch is not about fingertips on skin or hard metal or stacks of money. Real touch is heart to heart, mind to mind. Real touch is a process within the awareness, not about dense matter encountering more dense matter.

What we seek is never what we seek, but the affect it has on us. With everything we seek, what we actually seek is self-transformation. And, of course, that transformed self is already within us, just awaiting our own permission to be that. That is why Rilke says–

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are…

Whether we yearn for a beloved person or place or circumstance, that encounter always awaits us within.

a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

We can read his final lines as suggesting something about the ephemeral nature of reality, or it can be the dawning recognition that we are continuously receiving communication, encouragement, contact, we have just been missing it because of our fixed ideas about what we seek and what is real.

Sending love to you in this new year…


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

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


Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rainer Maria Rilke

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Dec 17 2015

Teresa of Avila – You are Christ’s Hands

Published by under Poetry

You are Christ’s Hands
by Teresa of Avila (attributed)

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
      no hands but yours,
      no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
      Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
      doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

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


/ Image by batega /

With Christmas coming up, I thought this might be a poem one to contemplate. While this poem is popularly attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, it is not among her officially recognized works.

Whether this was composed by Teresa of Avila herself or by an anonymous Christian poet, this is one of my favorite prayer-poems. It is a prayer of supreme spiritual maturity. It is not someone imploring Christ to come and fix everything in the external way imagined by so many fundamentalist sects; rather, it recognizes the presence of the Divine within each of us and our sacred responsibility to embody that compassion and service within the world. Each one of us is the vehicle through which Christ (or Ishwara or the Buddha) enacts blessings in the world. Our job is to let that sacred current flow through us unhindered.

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now…

Whether you celebrate Christmas or recently celebrated Hanukkah or are readying for the Solstice — or simply watching as the light to renew itself amidst the darkness of winter — may this be a special time for you. And may the light in your life bring light and hope to others.


Recommended Books: Teresa of Avila

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
More Books >>


Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila poetry, Christian poetry Teresa of Avila

Spain (1515 – 1582) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Dec 16 2015

Mechthild of Magdeburg – A fish cannot drown in water

Published by under Poetry

A fish cannot drown in water
by Mechthild of Magdeburg

English version by Jane Hirshfield

A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

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


/ Image by kopita /

In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.

Aren’t those wonderful lines? We have a tendency to be overwhelmed by the intensity of life… the “fire of creation.” In that overwhelm we often have a self-protective psychic reflex to wall out the things and experiences we label as painful. We create a mental separation and tell ourselves, “This is me. And that out there is the pain.” That’s natural, right? In extreme cases, maybe it’s even necessary — in the moment.

The problem with that in the long term is that, over time, as we live and experience more, we wall off more and more until we inhabit a fragmented psychic landscape. And, in that fragmentation, we lose the vision of unity. This is how God seems to “vanish” in the fire of creation. This is how we lose our connection with the fundamental ground of being and forget our true nature.

BUT- through spiritual practice, through deep self-acceptance, through fearless observation, those psychic walls come tumbling down. And then, all at once, the vision comes, and we are overwhelmed with its brightness!

Like a fish in water and a bird in the air, the Eternal lives and moves through all of creation. Material reality is the medium of expression for the Immaterial. It is That, and nothing less, which is the all-pervading animating warmth and life of all things. When we rediscover it, all of creation shines.

How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

So often spiritual seekers struggle with the question of how to find God, how to get to heaven, how to attain salvation, or enlightenment, or true yoga… What are they really? Do they even have value in ‘real life’? But Mechthild reminds us that it is our very nature to seek that unity. The real key is to simply stop resisting our nature. Seekers strive, but saints get out of the way.


Recommended Books: Mechthild of Magdeburg

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others The Mystic in Love: A Treasury of Mystical Poetry
More Books >>


Mechthild of Magdeburg, Mechthild of Magdeburg poetry, Christian poetry Mechthild of Magdeburg

Germany (1207 – 1297) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Dec 08 2015

Ryokan – Thinking

Published by under Poetry

Thinking
by Ryokan

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd’s purse.
Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.

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


/ Image by digicla /

I really like the way this poem opens…

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd’s purse.

Ryokan recognizes how thoughts grow tired of themselves and can finally fall silent. In silence, he enters the woods—a recluse, wrapped in quiet, moving slowly among the trees in search of his simple meal of wild herbs.

This is the part that really awakens:

Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.

He has movement, yes, but it is effortless flow. His entire life at that moment is transparent, completely clear, free from self and the silting of mind.

The poet’s entrance into the poem and disappearance into the woods creates a vacuum that draws us in after him. The whole poem is an invitation, leaving us with the question… Shall we, too, slip into the woods?


Recommended Books: Ryokan

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing
More Books >>


Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

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

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