Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Jul 16 2014

Abdul-Qader Bedil – His Living Proof

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His Living Proof
by Abdul-Qader Bedil

English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler

The eternal mysteries,
following wisdom’s lead,
brought forth
the human form
as their living proof.

As long as the drop
hadn’t emerged from the sea,
the ocean
didn’t notice
the depths of its splendor.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler


/ Photo by alainf1 /

The “human form” in this poem is not so much a reference to human physical body as to human consciousness. Bedil is saying that humanity was created by God to be a living witness to Divinity. This is the “living proof.” He is not stating that the human body itself somehow proves the existence of the “eternal mysteries;” rather, it is through the witnessing consciousness of humanity that the Divine knows Itself in fullness. The poet makes this more clear with the metaphor of the second verse: It is only when the “drop” emerges from the “sea” that the “ocean” can envision “the depths of its own splendor.”

In other words, Bedil is giving us an answer to that fundamental spiritual question: Why does separation exist within the universe? If all is One, if everything fundamentally exists in God, why is there this devastating sense of separation and duality? The answer many mystical traditions give is that Eternal Unity divides mundane perception into the duality of seer and seen as a way to deepen the full knowledge of Being. Humanity, in this sense, has as its most important role that of witnessing Divinity. From this viewpoint, you could say that humanity becomes the eye of God. Human consciousness becomes a reflection of the Divine consciousness, a mirror in which the Eternal Unity can view Itself.

But there is an added twist to the common perception of duality. When one fulfills the role of witnessing God beyond the dizzying and sometimes heartbreaking multiplicities of the dualistic universe… the dualism fades away, revealing itself as having been an elaborate illusion. In truth, everything has always been One from start to finish. So we have a circular game of awareness: unity seeks self-knowledge through duality, but self-knowledge returns us to unity. The drop no matter how high it is flung into the air, eventually falls back into the embrace of the ocean and merges once more. Even high above the waves, the drop is water. And once returned to the ocean, it is still water (but no longer imagines itself to be a separate drop).

Abdul-Qader Bedil

Afghanistan (1644 – 1721) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Jul 11 2014

Umar Ibn al-Farid – They say to me: Do describe it (from The Wine Ode)

Published by under Poetry

They say to me: “Do describe it (from The Wine Ode (al-Khamriyah))
by Umar Ibn al-Farid

English version by Th. Emil Homerin

They say to me: “Do describe it,
      for you know its character well!”
            Indeed, I have word
      of its attributes:

Purity not water,
      subtlety not air,
            light but not fire,
      spirit without body,

Lovely features guiding
      those describing it to praise;
            how find their prose and poetry
      on wine.

One who never knew it
      is moved by its memory,
            just as one longing for Nu’m
      is stirred when she is recalled.

But they said: “You’ve drunk sin!”
      No, indeed, I drank only
            that whose abstention
      is sin to me.

— from Umar Ibn al-Farid: Sufi Verses, Saintly Life, Translated by Th. Emil Homerin


/ Photo by drainingraven /

A meditation on wine today…

(So it doesn’t sound as if I am encouraging everyone to stock up at the corner liquor store, I will mention that I don’t drink alcohol myself, and I never have. Much to the surprise of my friends and family, I chose not to drink from an early age. I don’t, however, think there is anything wrong with drinking in moderation. But the wine we are contemplating here is of an entirely different sort…)

While sacred wine imagery occurs all over the world, the theme is perhaps most fully developed by the great Sufi poets.

This is especially interesting because of the complex relationship Islam has with wine. In Christianity, wine is the sacramental drink of the Eucharist, but in traditional Muslim observation, wine is forbidden. Yet, surprisingly, wine is promised to devout Muslims in heaven. Sufi poetry thrives on this tension.

But they said: “You’ve drunk sin!”
      No, indeed, I drank only
            that whose abstention
      is sin to me.

The forbidden worldly drink is also the sacred drink. That which is most profane is somehow transformed to become that which is most sacred. What is the difference? What changes the forbidden into the most holy of substances?

The mystically inclined might understand the paradox in this way: As a spiritual practice, alcoholic beverages are to be avoided, along with anything that fogs the awareness. This prepares the awareness to receive the infinitely more delightful wine of heaven.

Is it always understood and practiced this way? No. Sufis often dance in the gap between the forbidden and the promised, turning religious formalism on its head. Amidst sober orthodoxy, Sufis sing drunkenly of wine, wine, red wine! This allows authoritarians to dismiss them as drunkards and fools, leaving true seekers free from the snares of societal approval in order to continue their outlaw love affair with the Divine.

Bliss is sweet — literally. When you relax deeply into it, it becomes physical as well as transcendental. Not only is bliss an internal realization of wholeness and at-one-ness, it is also perceived through the external senses as the purest delight each sense can comprehend.

For many mystics, the sense of taste is pronounced, and bliss is experienced as a sublime, fulfilling sweetness resting upon the tongue while it warms the heart. Tasting this rarified substance is intoxicating; you feel giddy, smiling for no reason. You are no longer yourself. You may tremble and shake. You appear to all the world as if you are drunk — and so mystics speak of drunkenness and wine.

Often accompanying the experience is a feeling of deep purity, a sense of etheric subtlety, and the vision of all-pervading light–

Purity not water,
      subtlety not air,
            light but not fire,
      spirit without body

Ibn al-Farid gives us an interesting statement that implies drinking the sacred wine inspires words and poetry:

Lovely features guiding
      those describing it to praise;
            how find their prose and poetry
      on wine.

Many esoteric traditions formulate this link: the secret drink = poetry = prophecy. Here spirituality and art overlap.

When the mystic becomes conscious of first tasting the initiate’s wine, the awareness of supreme unity that underlies the apparent variety of creation is so profound that you begin to exist in the primal state of metaphor. Metaphor ceases to be a literary device or a dramatic mode of expression; it is seen as the true nature of reality.

The heavenly wine also brings the awareness into stillness, free from inner dialog. — Silence — Yet, curiously, many mystics find that from that silence words flow freely. Or, more generally, you can say that your natural expression is unstopped. With some that natural expression comes through words, for others music, for others imagery. It is as if expression is no longer hindered by your own mind. From silence, expression flows generously.

This is how Sufis “find their prose and poetry on wine.”

Have a beautiful full-moon weekend!

Ivan

PS – I hope you will join me in sending healing blessings to the region of Israel/Palestine. The current status quo is untenable so, sadly, further violence from all sides is unavoidable until a more livable balance is found. For that reason, the blessings I send are not so much to quell the immediate chaos as to comfort those who suffer and to inspire wisdom and empathy among those in positions to redirect the situation in order to create a more livable future for the region. All the people in this holy land are in my heart.

Umar Ibn al-Farid

Egypt (1181 – 1235) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jul 09 2014

Sarmad – My heart searched for your fragrance

Published by under Poetry

My heart searched for your fragrance
by Sarmad

English version by Isaac A. Ezekiel

My heart searched for your fragrance
      in the breeze moving at dawn,
      my eyes searched for the flower of your face
      in the garden of creation.
Neither could lead me to your abode —
      contemplation alone showed me the way.

— from Sarmad: Martyr to Love Divine, by Isaac A. Ezekiel


/ Photo by Courtney /

I know that the poem emails have been less frequent in recent weeks. I have been working on the upcoming anthology (I know, I’ve been talking about it for a while, but it is coming…), balancing my day job, and still dealing with ups and downs in health. Besides, a little uncertainty is a good thing; it helps us to bring fresh eyes to each new poem.

Reading this lovely poem by Sarmad, I can honestly embrace either side of its point. He is saying that, no matter how beautiful and uplifting the the world around us may be, the Eternal is only found within the inner space of deep contemplation. And that is such an important reminder for the human world that is perpetually hooked by the senses and the desire to comprehend everything in terms of material reality. Even the purest appreciation of the most stunning panorama does not hold God. Always, always, the Eternal is found within.

And yet– physical reality, especially the natural world in all its life and beauty, reveals something to us of the deeper Reality. In the sunrise, in a flower, we do not see the face of God… but, when we learn to look, we can see there a suggestion of a smile. Spirit playfully hides just behind the physical. Grasping at the physical world leads to failure and blindness, but recognizing its beauty can lead us to inner stillness and true seeing.

So, should we agree with Sarmad, or disagree? Both, I think.

PS- Sending blessings and good wishes to all of my Muslim friends celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.

Sarmad

Iran/Persia & India (? – 1659) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi
Jewish

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7 responses so far

Jun 30 2014

Basava – The eating bowl is not one bronze

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The eating bowl is not one bronze
by Basava

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

The eating bowl is not one bronze
and the looking glass another.

      Bowl and mirror are one metal
      Giving back light
      one becomes a mirror.

            Aware, one is the Lord’s;
            unaware, a mere human.

                  Worship the lord without forgetting,
                  the lord of the meeting rivers.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Photo by Gaetan Lee /

Bronze is a soft metal, easily shaped. It can be hammered into a bowl or flattened and polished, forming a simple mirror.

Basava is playing with a traditional teaching metaphor in this poem: both the bowl and the mirror are made of bronze. Mentally we label them as being different, but fundamentally they are the same substance, “one metal.”

The bronze can be understood to represent God. All beings, all things are made of the same substance, though we mentally distinguish them by outer shape. The only substantial difference between the eating bowl and the mirror is the form they have taken on. We can say that the mirror has recognized its nature as a bronze object. The nature of bronze, when straight and polished, is to give back light.

We are all constructed of the same God-stuff. When we become aware of our nature and polish ourselves we give back light and become a mirror.

Basava, Basava poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Basava

India (1134 – 1196) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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3 responses so far

Jun 25 2014

Santoka – Hailstones, too

Published by under Poetry

Hailstones, too
by Santoka (Santoka Taneda)

English version by John Stevens

Hailstones, too,
Enter my begging bowl.

— from Mountain Tasting: The Haiku and Journals of Santoka Taneda, by Santoka Teneda / Translated by John Stevens


/ Photo by Benny Lin /

Just two lines, just a few words, yet this poem suggests so much to me.

Santoka was a wandering Zen monk at the beginning of the 20th century, and whatever he received in his begging bowl was his food for the day. For such a monk, the begging bowl is both survival and the medium of connection to the wider world. It takes on archetypal significance. The begging bowl comes to represent the awareness itself: whatever the self is to receive must first enter the begging bowl.

Rice and coin and flowers come to Santoka through the medium of his begging bowl. But it is the monk’s discipline to hold out his begging bowl and receive whatever comes to him with equanimity, as the meditator receives with balance whatever is witnessed. Hailstones, too, enter the begging bowl. Everything that comes is a gift, food for the awareness, whether or not it feeds the body as well.

To me, this poem evokes that perfect receptivity in which surprise, disillusionment, delight, and new awareness all mix together as the mind opens to what is actually present in the present moment.

Santoka (Santoka Taneda), Santoka (Santoka Taneda) poetry, Buddhist poetry Santoka (Santoka Taneda)

Japan (1882 – 1940) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Santoka (Santoka Taneda)

5 responses so far

Jun 13 2014

Mary Oliver – Sunrise

Published by under Poetry

Sunrise
by Mary Oliver

You can
die for it–
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

— from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Photo by Zach Dischner /

We have a full moon. A little Friday the 13th energy to keep us on our toes. And the Summer Solstice is just a few days away. Time to unleash your wild side. Dance under the moonlight. Shout to greet the sunrise. Embarrass yourself and your neighbors. When will you have a better excuse?

Me, I am going to recite poetry with friends. Words are just words, but the breath they ride on, now that’s dangerous!

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us?

More than anything else, the bold act of a deep breath is a proclamation of being, of self, of presence, when so much conspires to sweep you into negation. Rebels breathe deeply. It is another way to enter fire.

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

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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3 responses so far

Jun 11 2014

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – Intimate Hymn

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Intimate Hymn
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

English version by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi

From word to word I roam, from dawn to dusk.
Dream in, dream out — I pass myself and towns,
A human satellite.

I wait, am hopeful, as one who waits at the rock
For the spring to well forth and ever well on.
I feel as bright as if I tented somewhere in the Milky Way.
To urge the world to feel I walk through lonesome solitudes.

All around me lightning explodes sparks from my glance
To reveal all light, unveil faces everywhere.
Godward, onward to the final weighing
overcoming heavy weight with thirst.
Constantly, the longings of all born call out, “Is anyone around?”
I know each one is HE, but in my heart there writhes a tear;
When of men and rocks and trees I hear;
All plead “Feel us”
All beg “See us”
God! Lend me your eyes!

I came to be, to sow the seed of sight in the world,
To unmask the God who disguised Himself as world–
And yes, I wait to be the first to announce “The Dawn.”

– from “Human, God’s Ineffable Name,” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, freely rendered by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi. Available from the Reb Zalman Legacy Project


/ Photo by mildhand /

This poem speaks to me, especially to the person I was in my late teens and early 20s. It beautifully conveys the push and pull of the heart eager to break open, the soul eager to feel, the inner eye eager to truly see.

Relating to the world in this way can be disorienting, even frightening at first. Peering beneath the facades and behind the world’s competitive normalcy, the seeing eye can’t help but recognize a terrible ache everywhere present:

All plead “Feel us”
All beg “See us”

Everyone and everything yearns to be noticed, recognized, seen. There is a terrible spiritual hunger at the heart of reality: We all desperately want our existence to be validated in the eyes of another. Not just that we are, but who we are.

The seeker, the visionary, the artist, instinctively wants to be that witness. And so we make ourselves vulnerable in order to see and to feel honestly. But how are we not then overwhelmed by that pleading call coming at us from every direction? Rabbi Heschel gets right to the solution with his prayer–

God! Lend me your eyes!

The solution is to become an open conduit through which the boundaryless Divine can answer. We learn to see honestly, feel honestly, and step out of the way of the immensely honest response ready to pour through.

In this way, God unmasks God. Seeing through you God witnesses God. We complete the divine game of hide-and-seek in each other.

I came to be, to sow the seed of sight in the world,
To unmask the God who disguised Himself as world–
And yes, I wait to be the first to announce “The Dawn.”

Rabbi Heschel was an important figure in modern Hassidic Jewish spirituality, and he was also a key figure in the US civil rights movement and anti-war movement of the 1960s.

I chose this poem today just as much to honor its translator, Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi. Reb Zalman, as he is often called, is himself a much-beloved spiritual teacher, peace-worker, author, and leader in inter-religious dialog. Although I don’t know the details, I have heard that Reb Zalman is unwell. I hope you will join me in sending blessings and good wishes to this great soul.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel poetry, Jewish poetry Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Poland & US (1907 – 1972) Timeline
Jewish

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Jun 06 2014

John O’Donohue – Beannacht / Blessing

Published by under Poetry

Beannacht / Blessing
by John O’Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

— from Echoes of Memory, by John O’Donohue


/ Photo by jimmy brown /

Like a wise man who has seen much, O’Donohue doesn’t shy away from the terrible difficulties we all encounter on the journey of life in the opening lines. But he also suggests to us that there is a silent conspiracy to help us forward, support and intelligence in the very earth beneath our feet.

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

His lines are not only filled with a patient sort of compassion, he reminds us that compassion and quiet wisdom is present all around us.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

I think the real power of a blessing poem like this is that it weaves a new vision of the world in words. The real blessing gives us is new eyes.

may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

The real blessing is that these words give us new ways to view the world we encounter, laying for us a new pattern for ordering our perception of reality. If we let it, this blessing becomes “an invisible cloak,” a heartful awareness that is a gentle buffer while it also keeps us connected to our world.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Blessings!



[BOOK LIST REPEATING]

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

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

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7 responses so far

Jun 04 2014

Farid ud-Din Attar – A slave’s freedom

Published by under Poetry

A slave’s freedom
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

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

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


/ Photo by Lucas Incas /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4 responses so far

May 30 2014

Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman

Published by under Poetry

Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou

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

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

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

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

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

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


/ Photo by KealaKC /

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

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

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

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

US (1928 – 2014) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Maya Angelou

7 responses so far

May 29 2014

Video: David Whyte TED Talk

Published by under Poetry,Videos

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

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May 21 2014

Kobayashi Issa – even poorly planted

Published by under Poetry

even poorly planted
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by David G. Lanoue

even poorly planted
rice plants
slowly, slowly…green!

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


/ Photo by Deboarah Austin /

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

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

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

Kobayashi Issa, Kobayashi Issa poetry, Buddhist poetry Kobayashi Issa

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

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4 responses so far

May 19 2014

Dorothy Walters – After

Published by under Poetry

After
by Dorothy Walters

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

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

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


/ Photo by Trekking Rinjani /

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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May 16 2014

Yunus Emre – True speech is the fruit of not speaking

Published by under Poetry

True speech is the fruit of not speaking
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


/ Photo by Professor Zeeshan Shah /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 09 2014

Nazrul Islam – He who has seen my Mother

Published by under Poetry

He who has seen my Mother
by Nazrul Islam

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott

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

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


/ Photo by thelearningcurv /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she loves all her children equally.

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

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

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

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

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

That perspective transforms the final lines–

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

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day!

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

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

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May 02 2014

Ryokan – Even if you consume as many books

Published by under Poetry

Even if you consume as many books
by Ryokan

English version by John Stevens

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

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


/ Photo by guillermocarballa /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

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

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Apr 30 2014

Andrew Colliver – The Further You Go

Published by under Poetry

The Further You Go
by Andrew Colliver

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

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

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


/ Photo by Bunnis /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love those final lines:

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

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




Andrew Colliver

Australia (1953 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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

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

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

More poetry by Andrew Colliver

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