Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

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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9 responses so far

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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3 responses so far

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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2 responses so far

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

12 responses so far

Apr 11 2014

Paramahansa Yogananda – Prayer for the Great Enlightenment

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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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9 responses so far

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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Mar 14 2014

Clare of Assisi – What you hold, may you always hold

Published by under Poetry

What you hold, may you always hold
by Clare of Assisi

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

What you hold, may you always hold.
What you do, may you do and never abandon.
But with swift pace, light step,
      unswerving feet,
      so that even your steps stir no dust,
go forward
      securely, joyfully, and swiftly,
on the path of prudent happiness,
      believing nothing
      agreeing with nothing
      which would dissuade you from this resolution
      or which would place a stumbling block for you on the way,
so that you may offer your vows to the Most High
in the pursuit of that perfection
to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you.

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


/ Photo by trinket /

This poem by Clare of Assisi clearly has a beauty about it, but it isn’t necessarily clear on the first reading what she is truly talking about. What, for example, is it that is held which she hopes may always be held?

Clare wrote this poem in a letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, whom she is encouraging into ever deeper states of union with the Divine.

What is “held” in the first line is the awareness of God within, what Clare refers to elsewhere in her letter as Agnes’s “many virtues” with which she is already “adorned.”

What Agnes (and we) “do” in the second line is the continual practice of that awareness, which must be done “with swift pace, light step, / unswerving feet.”

But why must our steps “stir no dust”? The dust is the busy-ness of the world, reflecting our busy thoughts. Action must be performed without inner disturbance. Action must be performed without it even being action in the ways defined by the world. We must move through life without leaving a personal (egoistic) trace of our passing. This is similar to the metaphor used in the East that, for the enlightened, all action is like writing in water.

When you do so, you “go forward / securely, joyfully, and swiftly, / on the path of prudent happiness,” that is, on the supremely poised path of divine bliss.

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

Italy (1193? – 1254) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Mar 10 2014

Basho – The temple bell dies away

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The temple bell dies away
by Matsuo Basho

English version by R. H. Blyth

The temple bell dies away
The scent of flowers in the evening
Is still tolling the bell.

— from Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, by R. H. Blyth


/ Photo by FideNullo /

This haiku evokes a rich scene for me: Twilight in springtime, with evening descending. Basho sitting outside beneath the eaves of his house, and we sit there with him. We don’t hear the temple bell itself, but the sustained reverberation after as it fades into the failing light. Our eyelids half open, we take a deep breath of the evening air and catch the honeyed scent of spring blossoms. That gentle aroma surrounds us and fills all the land as it comes to rest about us. We take another breath, slow and deep in through the nose, and hold it for a moment to taste the sweet world we inhabit. Falling silent in that still moment, we hear a ghost of a sound, a whisper, a ringing, in the inner ear. The nearby temple may have moved on with its activities, but the bell still resonates within us, calling our awareness to the eternal.






Matsuo Basho, Matsuo Basho poetry, Buddhist poetry Matsuo Basho

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

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6 responses so far

Mar 05 2014

Colin Oliver – Endpoem

Published by under Poetry

Endpoem
by Colin Oliver

Given to God,
      the worn sandals of thought
      left at a distant threshold,
one’s care is for Him alone
that His care may be for all.

Before Him, in His mystery,
the unclenching
of the fists of knowing –
      the unhanding of all things to Him,
      being in oneself nothing
      and no-one,
      the fool with open palms –
before Him, that one
might happily contain Him.

Being empty and light,
one is God, His all and His love,
held within the light –
      and one sinks as the light
      to God, through God and,
      for His sake, beyond God.

One is
a pebble turned between God’s fingers
to be tossed
into the pool of His everlasting clearness
      that His hand might be free.

— from Stepping Into Brilliant Air, by Colin Oliver


/ Photo by DragonStella /

Oh, I really like the images of this poem.

Given to God,
      the worn sandals of thought
      left at a distant threshold…

This evokes the idea of removing one’s sandals when entering sacred ground, as Moses is instructed to do when he encounters the burning bush.

When you think about it, sandals are a perfect representative for thoughts. Sandals are a buffer to protect our feet from rough terrain and sharp objects, but they also become a barrier preventing direct contact with the living soil. So too do thoughts act as a buffer in our perception, softening our encounters with reality but also limiting that direct contact. To touch sacred reality directly, we must remove the barriers of both sandals and the busy mind.

Before Him, in His mystery,
the unclenching
of the fists of knowing –
      the unhanding of all things to Him,
      being in oneself nothing
      and no-one,
      the fool with open palms –
before Him, that one
might happily contain Him.

Great phrase: “the unclenching of the fists of knowing.” And also “the unhanding of all things to Him.”

Several beautifully turned phrases here to remind us to let go in order to receive. When we let go of “all things,” we not only release our attachments to things, but we drop our notions of “thingness.” The goal is to stop artificially separating reality into a collection of unrelated objects and, instead, as a fool upon first waking, we recognize the “thingless” unity everywhere. And in that unity we perceive the presence of the Divine.

Being empty and light,
one is God…

Oh, I like that too. (Momentary pause while I go back and reread some of these lines once again… OK, I’m back.)

One is
a pebble turned between God’s fingers
to be tossed
into the pool of His everlasting clearness
      that His hand might be free.

Mm. (That did it. I’m gone again.)






Colin Oliver

England (1946 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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Feb 28 2014

Manikkavacakar – Becoming sky & earth

Published by under Poetry

Becoming sky & earth
by Manikkavacakar

Becoming sky & earth
Wind & light
Becoming flesh & spirit
All that truly is
& all that which is not
Becoming the Lord,
He makes those who say,
“I” & “mine”
Dance in the show
Becoming sky
& standing there…
How can my words
praise Him?


/ Photo by Vik Nanda /

Yesterday was the Hindu festival of Shivaratri in honor of the the god Shiva. Often Shiva is depicted as a meditating, long-haired ascetic, but another important expression of Shiva is as Nataraj, Lord of the Dance.

Shiva Nataraj is depicted with one foot raised in dance, the other foot treading upon a figure representing ignorance. In one hand he holds the drum that is the fundamental sound of creation. In another he displays the fire of destruction. A third hand expresses the mudra (hand position) of fearlessness, while the fourth hand points to his upraised foot, suggesting the path to liberation. His jata, matted locks, fly out about his head; in the wildness of his dance, they crash into the objects of existence, dispelling their illusory being. And flames emanate from his dancing body, representing manifestation, creation radiated out into being by the pure energy of his dance.

Shiva’s dance — called the Tandava — is the rhythm of the universe, the dance of creation, evolution, destruction, and renewal. The cycle of the seasons is in his dance, All patterns and rhythms emanate from Lord Shiva’s dance, from the ages of the world to the thrum of each person’s heartbeat.

All the dramas of existence are expressions of Shiva’s dance.

That statement is particularly interesting to me:

He makes those who say,
“I” & “mine”
Dance in the show

First, the Manikkavacakar describes his expansive, blissful merging with all Being–

Becoming sky & earth
Wind & light
Becoming flesh & spirit
All that truly is
& all that which is not

Merging with Shiva himself–

Becoming the Lord

And from this egoless, all-permeating state, the yogin witnesses Lord Shiva’s dance play out. He sees people, creatures, all beings swept up in the rhythm of that great dance. From the yogin’s elevated state, the Tandava is an immense, colorful wonder of swirling movement, contact and conflict, birth and death, joy and suffering, rising and falling. But to those swept up in the dance, the rhythms are overwhelming, the experiences can be terrifying. As beautiful as the great cosmic dance is, the individuals within it are engaged in exhaustive struggle, often disoriented, and sometimes touched by terrible suffering.

Why the disconnect between the macrocosmic majesty and the microcosmic misery? Amidst the dance of being, people struggle because of the ego sense. They say “I” and “me” and “mine.” This creates an incomplete and fixed sense of self — very dangerous in a world defined by movement. The ego is a sort of spiritual temper tantrum, a child’s hot assertion that “this is what I am, and this is all that I am, and the world had better stay put!” But the dance continues. The universe is alive, and life moves.

The dance of existence is terrifying when we identify with all the tumbling bits and pieces. But when we come to know ourselves as flowing, spacious, subtle beings of pure dynamic awareness, we can then choose to participate or not, in service and in delight. We are no longer IN the dance, we have become the dance. We are not so much bodies or collections of experiences with a fixed point in the rhythm, we are the flow of rhythm itself. Free from the fixations and limitations of the little self, we now move with Shiva himself.

How can words manage to praise the Lord of the Dance?

Om Namah Shivaya!






Manikkavacakar

India (9th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Feb 26 2014

Yunus Emre – The drink sent down from Truth

Published by under Poetry

The drink sent down from Truth
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

The drink sent down from Truth,
we drank it, glory be to God.
And we sailed over the Ocean of Power,
glory be to God.

Beyond those hills and oak woods,
beyond those vineyards and gardens,
we passed in health and joy, glory be to God.

We were dry, but we moistened.
We grew wings and became birds,
we married one another and flew,
glory be to God.

To whatever lands we came,
in whatever hearts, in all humanity,
we planted the meanings Taptuk taught us,
glory be to God.

Come here, let’s make peace,
let’s not be strangers to one another.
We have saddled the horse
and trained it, glory be to God.

We became a trickle that grew into a river.
We took flight and drove into the sea,
and then we overflowed, glory be to God.

We became servants at Taptuk’s door.
Poor Yunus, raw and tasteless,
finally got cooked, glory be to God.

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


/ Photo by That-Bassoonist /

A Sufi song of initiation…

The drink sent down from Truth,
we drank it, glory be to God.

Amrita, nectar, honey, dew, wine. Many mystical traditions describe the experience of drinking a celestial substance in states of deep communion. This is more than mere poetry. A flowing, liquid-like substance is felt descending, as if from heaven (“sent down from Truth”), ever so sweet on the palette, running down the throat, and warming the heart, leaving the wine drinker filled with a giddy bliss and expansive love for all.

This is the drink of initiation. Drink it and be consumed by wonder.

We were dry, but we moistened.

…What a perfect, succinct evocation of that moment of spiritual revivification.

We grew wings and became birds,
we married one another and flew,
glory be to God.

Birds have been used in several Sufi poems to suggest the soul. We can read these lines to say he has discovered what his soul really is and how it is its nature to soar. And to “marry one another” implies a union between self, God, and all things. Union is found and the true self soars.

We have saddled the horse
and trained it, glory be to God.

The horse referred to here can be understood as the mind, specifically the sensory mind. It is that part of the awareness that knows the world through the senses. For most of us, that horse is wild, racing in all directions, running toward pleasure and away from discomforts. When it does that, it pulls the rest of our awareness after it, preventing progress towards a clear goal.

As we mature, that horse may be partially tamed or, at least, it tugs us with less strength. But the spiritual aspirant seeks to saddle and train the sensory mind so it can be guided by a more focused aspect of our awareness. Notice that the sensory mind is not chained up, nor is the horse slaughtered. This is not about the absolute starvation of the senses. Rather, the sense mind is “trained” and self-directed so it is no longer enamored or frightened by each successive sensory experience. Awareness of both pleasure and pain is integrated and used intelligently, but does not distract us from our true path. And notice too that that same sensory mind, when trained, becomes the source of our power and speed, allowing us to travel great distances on the path. In other words, the sensory mind is not to be abandoned; it is trained and utilized.

We became a trickle that grew into a river.
We took flight and drove into the sea,
and then we overflowed, glory be to God.

I love these lines!

Poor Yunus, raw and tasteless,
finally got cooked, glory be to God.

That alchemical cooking process, it can be intense, make us sweat, convince us we are dying, but it separates out the dross, refines us, completes us, gives us flavor. We become worthy food for the Divine, a savory offering. If we want to be an accepted on the altar, we have to put up with the process that unlocks our flavor. All of life conspires to cook us. The question is, do we help or hinder our own preparation?

The drink from heaven, moistening, sprouting, growing wings and flying, saddling and riding a horse, flooding to the sea, being cooked — all ways of describing the mystic’s transformations when passing the ecstatic threshold of union.






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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 21 2014

Niffari – Stand at the throne

Published by under Poetry

Stand at the throne (from The Standing Of the Presence Chamber and the Letter)
by Niffari (Muhammad ibn al-Hasan an-Niffari)

English version by Michael A. Sells

He said to me:
      Stand at the throne.
      I saw the sanctuary.
      No gaze attained it.
      No cares entered it.
      In it I saw the doors of every reality.
      I saw the doors on fire.
      In the fire was a sanctuary.
      Nothing could enter it but the sincere act.
      When it entered, it came to the door.
      When it came to the door, it stood for the reckoning
      I saw the reckoning
            single out what was for the face of God
            from what was for the other-than-him.
      I saw the reward was other-than-him.
      I saw that the act, sincere in him and for him alone,
            raised from the door to the highest plane of vision.
      When it was raised, there was written upon the door:
      “It has passed the reckoning.”

Eat from my hand,
Drink from my hand
      Or you will not be equal to my obedience.

If you do not obey me on my account,
      You will not be equal to my worship.

If you cast off your fault
      you will cast off your ignorance.

If you recall your fault
      you will forget your lord.

In the garden
      is everything thought can bear
      and behind it more.

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


/ Photo by red twolips /

There is so much to explore in this “standing” that I leave it with you to contemplate. Just a few of my own thoughts…

Nothing could enter it but the sincere act.

I love that.

I saw the reckoning
single out what was for the face of God
from what was for the other-than-him.

The day of reckoning, Judgment Day, is when we are sifted to discover what in us is a pure reflection of the face of God from that which is “other-than-him.” But Niffari sees that even the “reward” is “other-than-him.” He seems to be reminding us that to truly pass the “reckoning,” we must seek the Eternal not for the sake of a promised heavenly reward, but for the Eternal alone.

I saw that the act, sincere in him and for him alone,
raised from the door to the highest plane of vision.
When it was raised, there was written upon the door:
“It has passed the reckoning.”

A sacred puzzle: The reward is not the reward; God is the reward.

Eat from my hand,
Drink from my hand
      Or you will not be equal to my obedience.

This is a statement of inner mystical initiation. Depth here to explore…

If you cast off your fault
      you will cast off your ignorance.

If you recall your fault
      you will forget your lord.

I love these lines too. A reminder to us that obsessing on faults, imperfections, or sins keeps us cut off from the Divine. The proper approach is not to linger on one’s personal or spiritual failures; that simply strengthens the illusory walls between the individual awareness and the Eternal. No, one must see those “faults” clearly, and seeing them clearly no longer cling to them, allowing them to simply fall away without self-condemnation.

We define ourselves by our faults, and create spiritual separation through self-condemnation. When we let them simply fall, the walls we imagined separating ourselves from the Eternal show themselves to have never been. “Ignorance” finally disappears and we we have all along been standing in the presence of the Divine.

In the garden
      is everything thought can bear
      and behind it more.






Niffari (Muhammad ibn al-Hasan an-Niffari)

Iraq (? – 965) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 19 2014

Ivan M. Granger – Twelve Ways to Lose Your Head on Maui

Published by under Poetry

Twelve Ways to Lose Your Head on Maui
by Ivan M. Granger

I.
Piercing the clouds, fingers
of sunlight caress the valley floor.
The Iao Needle stands, its immense
      quiet crushing.

II.
Staring blindly out the window,
no work getting done –
a stolen moment when silence
      has stolen me.

III.
Reading, I shiver in the Upcountry chill.
Already old in the new year, the island
and I shiver
      and grow still.

IV.
Baldwin Avenue meandering to Paia
beneath an empty sky,
cane fields
      surge in the sun.

V.
At the altar: Breath
aglow in my throat.
Golden treacle pools
      upon my heart.

VI.
The path to Twin Falls, dusty
between my toes. Wild ginger points
to the upper pool. Fallen guavas
      float downstream.

VII.
Hana Highway, pausing
at each bridge to let traffic pass.
Around the bend –
      endless ocean.

VIII.
Fasting on Saturday –
empty stomach, empty head.
Time spreads
      into stillness.

IX.
Cinnamon-red and blue, a pheasant stares
through the window. My wife
calls me, whisper. I see them
      see each other.

X.
In the cave among the eucalyptus
up Alae Road – a fine seat
for a city boy
      playing sadhu.

XI.
In bursts of wingbeats
a cardinal darts by. The red
bird finds himself lost
      among the red proteas.

XII.
The sun setting beyond
Ma’alaea Harbor. The golden ocean,
I see, drinks the tired eye in.
      I am gone.

— from Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey, by Ivan M. Granger


/ Photo by alierturk /

In 2000, my wife and I moved to the island of Maui, having never even visited the islands before. My first impressions didn’t match my visions of a tropical paradise at all. We arrived just after the cane harvest, so we were greeted with expansive fields of exposed red earth. Driving through the ramshackle surfer town of Paia for the first time, with red dust swirling around wood slat storefronts, it felt like we had arrived in the Australian outback.

But you know, over time, I really came to love the aina, the land of Hawaii. I wasn’t a beach dweller; my wife and I lived high up along the slopes of Haleakala Volcano, among the misty forests of eucalyptus and wattle. Every human structure was kind of run down, but there was something… normal about that. Even the trophy mansions hidden behind iron gates felt somehow temporary, just passing through on a slow current.

As I began to give in to the rhythms of life on the island, a quiet and ease settled into my body in a way I’d never known before.

We lived there for four years before returning to the mainland.

But I still have visions of looking down the slope of Haleakala, all the way down to Ma’alaea Harbor, while the heavy golden sun sinks in glory beneath the horizon…

Malama pono!






Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

US (1969 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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Feb 14 2014

Ikkyu – Every day, priests minutely examine the Law

Published by under Poetry

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
by Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

English version by Sonya Arutzen

Every day, priests minutely examine the Law
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind
and rain, the snow and moon.

— from Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan, by Ikkyu / Translated by Sonya Arutzen


/ Photo by Inebriantia /

So short and sweet, we almost don’t notice its deep cut into our pretenses.

If we want to be learned, then we can read the scriptures, memorize them, chant them. But if we want true knowledge, then we must do something much harder — step outside and fall silent. When we can do that, and recognize the hidden touch behind it all, only then have we really understood what we’ve been studying all that time.

A reminder to step outside and receive the world’s love letter…






Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun), Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun) poetry, Buddhist poetry Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

Japan (1394 – 1481) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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