Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

May 16 2018

Faiz Ahmad Faiz – Bol – Speak

Published by under Poetry

Bol – Speak
by Faiz Ahmad Faiz

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Speak! Your words are free.
Speak! Your tongue is still your own.

Your body is yours, strong and straight.

Speak! Your life is still your own.

Look! In the forge’s flames,
how your steel glows red.
See how the locked doors have opened
and every chain breaks.

Speak! The time left to you is enough.
Before body and tongue give out.
Speak! For truth still survives
Speak! Say what is in your heart!


/ Image by melaniumom /

It is worth taking some time to really pay attention to the news and some of the troubling events taking place right now. But it takes a deeper reading than we get in most US news sources to have a sense of what is really happening. The killing of the Palestinian protesters in Gaza in the wake of the US embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The decision by the US to unilaterally break the Iran nuclear agreement, which was the only real reason the Iranian government had to cooperate. The US government tightening its alliances with the extremist governments in Saudi Arabia and Israel, who seem to want to foment a war with Iran.

Events can unfold in several different directions, some terrible to contemplate.

In such moments, the temptation is to turn away, to shut the heart down, to focus exclusively on our own lives, our own families and circle of friends. I would suggest that we can handle more than we think we can. The heart, to be whole, must break a thousand times and be ready to break again. An empathic heart is what keeps us alive and on the spiritual path. A feeling heart reaches out to embrace even those outside our circles of familiarity, expanding our own sense of who we are.

And we have bodies, vehicles of action in the world. They are meant to express that awakened heart. They are meant to help, to soothe, to show kindness, to stop harm, for that is what the heart wishes.

And we can speak. For speaking is an act of the living, an affirmation of one’s humanity. Speaking is about connection, sharing one’s state of mind that we may meet one another in the currents of truth.

Speak! For truth still survives
Speak! Say what is in your heart!

Though speech we touch each other, heart to heart.

Speak.

Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Faiz Ahmad Faiz poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Faiz Ahmad Faiz

Pakistan (1911 – 1984) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 11 2018

Thich Nhat Hanh – Walking Meditation

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Walking Meditation
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will enjoy our walk
without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Walk peacefully.
Walk happily.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.

Then we learn
that there is no peace walk;
that peace is the walk;
that there is no happiness walk;
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves.
We walk for everyone
always hand in hand.

Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Print on Earth your love and happiness.

Earth will be safe
when we feel in us enough safety.

— from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh


/ Image by Leonid Afremov /

Something for us today by Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen monk, peace activist, author, meditation teacher…

This doesn’t feel entirely like a “poem” to me; it’s more like rhythmic, chant-like set of instructions. Reading these words I can almost hear Thich Nhat Hanh’s gentle voice offering these suggestions to us as we engage in walking meditation.

Often we imagine a very stern notion of what meditation is, and it involves sitting rigidly still. Walking meditation invites us to move, to interact with our environment — but with a sense of presence, with full awareness, with resting mind. This allows the body to move in its natural fluidity without growing stiff. It encourages a full, easy flow of the breath.

But, in walking meditation, we are not marching from point A to point B–

We will enjoy our walk
without thinking of arriving anywhere.

We are dropping the purpose and destination from our stride. The way we walk is important. Resting mind, allowing mind, welcoming heart.

It is not an easy thing to move through a garden or down the sidewalk without becoming attached to the thousand things we see or think. The reflex is to collapse the awareness with each small encounter, like a fisherman with a net, trying to ensnare and possess the world. But to keep that net of awareness open, spread wide, to witness the magical moment, to watch it dance for its instant in the sun, and then to allow it to drift past, that is the gentle work of the meditator.

To walk through the world, with a sense of peace in the heart and belly, feeling simple happiness beneath the worries of the day, touching the earth and being touched by the earth, seeing and encountering without constricting the awareness, secure enough to know ourselves, where we are, what we are part of… we are doing walking meditation.

Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Print on Earth your love and happiness.

Earth will be safe
when we feel in us enough safety.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Thich Nhat Hanh

Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy & Liberation


Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist poetry Thich Nhat Hanh

Vietnam/France/US (1929 – )
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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May 09 2018

Rabindranath Tagore – I want thee, only thee

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(38) I want thee, only thee (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

That I want thee, only thee — let my heart repeat without end. All desires that distract me, day and night, are false and empty to the core.
      As the night keeps hidden in its gloom the petition for light, even thus in the depth of my unconsciousness rings the cry — I want thee, only thee.
      As the storm still seeks its end in peace when it strikes against peace with all its might, even thus my rebellion strikes against thy love and still its cry is — I want thee, only thee.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by madrush08 /

I want thee, only thee

This is the prayer of every heart, regardless of belief, regardless of how we live. Every kind gesture says, “I want thee.” So too does every angry action. Amidst our distracted lives, “I want thee” is the inner mantra. We just have to recognize it and encourage it to come forth.

All desires that distract me, day and night, are false and empty to the core.

I don’t write often about the nature of desires. Religious voices have a tendency to speak about desire with a certain gleeful cruelty, creating environments of suppression, rigidity, and shame. Fully realized spirituality does not foster those qualities and,instead, nurtures self-awareness, presence, and flow. If joy and a sense of fullness are not present, something is off balance.

Keeping that important point in mind, we should still take a moment to consider why legitimate spiritual teachers talk about desires as a problem. When we speak of desires, we immediately think of sexuality. But desires are anything we want or crave or seek out. Yes, desires can be about sex and sensual pleasures. Desires can be about possessions and wealth and acquisition. Desire can be directed toward social position or life goals. Desire is anything at everything that hooks our attention and pulls at the will.

Here’s the real issue: The things and experiences we desire are not necessarily bad or “unspiritual.” It is the dynamic of desire itself that is the problem. We imagine that if we get this or experience that we will be happy or fulfilled. When we finally get that experience or attain that sought thing, we do indeed receive a burst of satisfaction — for a moment, or a day. And then something is missing again. We are already angling for the next thing we want. A new desire.

That’s the nut of the problem: Individual goals are attainable, specific experiences can be had, but desires are endless. Satisfying those desires never brings happiness in a lasting way. We become caught on an endless road of pursuit, disappointment, and more pursuit. Yet we persist in the chase. Sometimes we think we are being smart by deciding we have been chasing the wrong things, and so we start to pursue different desires. Yet the problem remains. Experiences can be achieved, but desires themselves are never satisfied. In the process, they siphon off large portions of our awareness and life energy.

It takes real wisdom and courage to step off that treadmill. Actions cease to be about fulfilling desires and, instead, become an expression of the inner self. Possessions and experiences are received with a sense of gratitude and a light grasp, knowing that they will pass and true fulfillment is attained elsewhere.

But how do we free ourselves from desires without resorting to repression and self-cruelty? Perhaps that’s a discussion for another day. Let’s allow the question itself to simmer in our thoughts and see what rises to the surface. What do you think?

As the storm still seeks its end in peace when it strikes against peace with all its might, even thus my rebellion strikes against thy love and still its cry is — I want thee, only thee.

This closing line is my favorite. There is a kindness in how Tagore assesses our “rebellion” and stumbling. Even in our anger, even in self-destruction, even amidst our worst faults, we are seeking peace. Picturing Tagore’s storm, I imagine the individual with an excess of unfocused energy striking repeatedly against this mountain of peace, wanting to spend itself against that immutable stillness, until, in exhaustion, the soul settles and finds its own peace.

In the end, we are all trying to express the words, I want thee, only thee.


Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>


Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Apr 27 2018

Kahlil Gibran – Pain

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Pain
by Kahlil Gibran

And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said:
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Much of your pain is self-chosen,
It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears.

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran


/ Image by techn04life /

We hold idealized images of enlightened men and women who have risen above the struggles of the world. We tell ourselves, that is the spiritual life, while all of the pain and imperfection we feel in our own lives is proof of our own failures.

It is worth reminding ourselves that brokenness is often considered to be the marker of someone on the spiritual path. To open, we usually must be broken open. Our wounds become our doorways. Our bruises are marks of initiation. Compassion is awakened, self-awareness, the ability to see with one’s own eyes.

The shattered shaman, the wounded healer. Wisdom found in exile. Seekers are, by nature, outsiders and oddballs ill at ease in the world around them, forging their own path, sometimes painfully, but in the process learning to be truly themselves.

That pain is not proof of failure, it is our potential. It is the sign of life within us seeking fuller expression.

I don’t want to suggest that I believe pain is necessary. I do believe, however, that suffering can be used. Difficult experiences can serve a profound purpose — when we approach them with awareness and with heart.

Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.

But let’s explore this question from a few different angles. What if the suffering is the suffering of the ego?

When we believe that we are that ego, then we experience the ego’s suffering as pain. We take it personally, and fear it could lead to death and, worse, nonexistence.

But– when we carefully, elegantly free ourselves from the notion that we are the ego, not merely as a philosophical idea but as a directly experienced reality, then what does the suffering of the ego mean to us? What is the ego exactly? When we come to see the ego as nothing more than a phantom, a mental construction, then the suffering itself becomes phantom-like. It is more like the unfolding drama of a movie being watched. It can be intense, heart-breaking, occasionally beautiful, but we no longer experience it as personal. It is no longer seen as an attack on our being.

Suffering, from that perspective, is not about pain or loss of being; instead it is seen as a form of alchemical pressure. When we keep our awareness engaged, we can use suffering as a form of transformational intensity, turning the crushed grape into wine…

Let’s also keep in mind that mystics often use the language of pain to describe spiritual opening, often in a shockingly positive light. They may refer to a “sweet pain” or a “healing pain.” This “pain” has a few levels of meaning and types of experience.

On one level, the pain can be quite literal and even physical. But it might be more accurate to refer to this as “intensity” rather than “pain.” It can be as if the senses and the perceptual mind’s ability to process it all gets overloaded. The mystic then experiences a searing, cleansing sort of intensity, that might be called pain.

And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;

Through profound opening, one feels everything more completely, a sort of universal empathy. There is a lot of hidden suffering in the world and, at a certain point, we feel it as our own. (Actually, we always feel it anyway, but the walls of denial fall away, and we become aware of it for the first time.) In a directly sentient way, we become aware of the interconnectedness of life. Initially, that flood of feeling is intense, even painful, but that is the pain of the heart breaking open. It becomes a sort of wound one carries, but it resolves itself to a beauty and sense of unity that manages to integrate even the most terrible suffering.

Other mystics speak of a wounding in a more metaphorical sense. The pain experienced is the perception of one’s separation from God. But that pain itself is the doorway to reunion. By allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable to that pain, to surrender to it, the mystic finds the pain transformed into the blissful touch of the Beloved.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

Ultimately, all of these forms of pain are the pain of the pierced ego. For one with inner balance, where the protective but limiting shell of the ego is no longer necessary, that pain points the way to freedom.

For this reason, mystics and saints describe the pain as being sweet or joyful or beautiful. It is, in fact, the beginning of bliss.

Be forgiving of your struggles. Rather than limiting you, let your secret wounds open new pathways. Sending much love to everyone!


Recommended Books: Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet The Beloved: Reflections on the Path of the Heart Broken Wings Jesus the Son of Man Kahlil Gibran: His Life & World
More Books >>


Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran poetry, Christian poetry Kahlil Gibran

Lebanon/US (1883 – 1931) Timeline
Christian
Secular or Eclectic

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Apr 25 2018

Philip Booth – First Lesson

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First Lesson
by Philip Booth

Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

— from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999, by Philip Booth


/ Image by Vassilis /

A father teaching his daughter to swim. The first lesson, how to float. He cradles her head in his hands and tells her to spread her arms and relax, looking up at the sky.

Very quickly this becomes a metaphor for life. Soon she will swim confidently. But it is a long effort to reach her “island.” When exhaustion inevitably sets in and fear seizes the heart, that first lesson comes back: rather than struggle, just rest, trust, lean back, float. Watch the stars.

the sea will hold you.


Recommended Books: Philip Booth

Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999


Philip Booth, Philip Booth poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Philip Booth

US (1925 – 2007) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Apr 20 2018

Janabai – You must accept those who surrender to you

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You must accept those who surrender to you
by Janabai

English version by Sarah Sellergren

If the Ganga flows to the ocean
and the ocean turns her away,
tell me, O Vitthal,
who would hear her complaint?

Can the river reject its fish?
Can the mother spurn her child?

Jan says,
Lord,
you must accept those
who surrender to you.

— from Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion, Edited by Anne Feldhaus


/ Image by TheFoxAndTheRaven /

I wanted to highlight this poem today because of its emphasis on surrender.

The question of surrender is central to the spiritual journey, which is often a difficult idea for us to accept. The word “surrender” itself can seem terrifying or even hateful. Why surrender at all? Don’t we want victory and not surrender?

We need to surrender. Surrender is essential to the eventual victory of spiritual opening. Yet surrender can also be dangerous.

Different religious traditions frame the idea of surrender differently, but it is always present. There is the notion of submission to a guru or spiritual guide, which might make some of us wince. Or monastic vows of obedience, which probably makes even more of us cringe. Every tradition has some expression of surrender encoded within its practices. When both the seeker and the spiritual authority come to that relationship with pure intention, the dynamic of surrender becomes a very effective technique for swift unfolding.

The obvious problem is that surrender, particularly the profound forms of self-surrender that occur as part of the spiritual journey, make one deeply vulnerable to everything from mental manipulation to sexual abuse. Sadly, we can all cite several public examples of this very result.

So, we should never surrender, right? It’s not that simple. As I said, surrender is essential.

But to whom do we surrender? Why do we need to surrender? Leaving aside the religious trappings, let us first ask, what is the energetic purpose of surrender?

The surrender we need for success along our spiritual journey is the surrender of self — the little or false self, the ego. Not just the ego as an idea, but we must drop the limited reality the ego-self enforces upon our consciousness. We also need to surrender the ego-bolstering actions, or self-will, which continuously reaffirm the ego and its psychic hindrances.

Profound spiritual opening requires that we come to a place in which we deeply, utterly… let go. This does not even require effort. We merely have to cease all our efforts at maintaining the pretense of the little self. We have to give up what has, for most of us, become a lifelong endeavor. This may be disorienting or even frightening, so it should not be sought casually. But, done with determination and patience and balance, such surrender unlocks the doorway.

I have used rather solitary language so far. To whom do we surrender? A master or spiritual authority? Some would say yes. My personal perspective is that, such a figure can be helpful when, as I said earlier, everyone’s intentions are clear. But I still have trouble with that. Contrarian that I am, I tend to oppose most forms of authority, spiritual and secular.

What I have observed is that what we are surrendering to is not that teacher or guru or guide or institution. We are really surrendering to the universal divine spark that we have glimpsed in that person or ideal. That glowing essence is the real authority that we must surrender to. That is the real teacher. We may sense it in a guru or a saint or a teacher. We may recognize it in a spiritual organization or a holy book or a beloved icon. Or we may find it in a grove of trees, in the face of a homeless person on the street. When we are honest with ourselves, it is not the person or the institution or the teaching; they are its representatives or embodiments, but it is the shining spark itself that calls to us. It is to that do we bow. That is what we truly surrender to.

In this way, surrender need not be submission or the giving up of our critical faculties or appropriate forms of self-respect and self-protection. Perhaps it is appropriate to have an antiauthoritarian form of spiritual surrender.

Ultimately, that spirit-filled spark we see in some inspiration focus outside ourselves is what is trying to awaken within ourselves. This is really why surrender is required. We are dropping our resistance and allowing that ineffable presence to be born within. We surrender the small self as a sacred offering. Accepting this sacrifice, the divine Self, that sense of our being most deeply connected with God, steps forth. This is how surrender becomes victory.

Jan says,
Lord,
you must accept those
who surrender to you.


Recommended Books: Janabai

Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Images of Women in Maharashtrian Literature and Religion Women Saints in World Religions


Janabai

India (1298 – 1350?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

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Apr 13 2018

Denise Levertov – Looking, Walking, Being

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Looking, Walking, Being
by Denise Levertov

“The World is not something to
look at, it is something to be in.”
— Mark Rudman

I look and look.
Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That’s
a way of breathing.

breathing to sustain
looking,
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

— from Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by Amizyolaroid /

Okay, let’s start off with those wonderful lines:

Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.

This poem is a response to the Mark Rudman quote, “The World is not something to / look at, it is something to be in.” Denise Levertov answers that looking IS being.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch…

I suspect that Rudman was discouraging passivity and lack of presence, but Levertov, I think, is getting at something deeper still. Humans, all beings, in fact, are fundamentally beings of awareness. Each individual is a point of perception, a viewpoint in the universe. We are, each of us, “a pair of eyes walking.”

We are present through perception, not action. Yes, action and interaction can be a powerful way to force us to pay attention, but it is also common to use action to shut down the awareness. Whether in movement or in stillness, the real goal is to keep the eyes open and feel fully with the heart and with the gut. We want to do more than look, but to see and see deeply. We need to see what is ignored and glossed over, to “dig and burrow in the world.”

Even in complete stillness, truly seeing is one of the most profound actions we can engage in. People are brought to tears by a gentle gaze in the eyes. This is what the soul craves, to be seen, to be recognized, to be truly acknowledged. This is true not just of the human soul, but of the world soul. I think of this when Denise Levertov writes of how the world “looks at one looking.”

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That’s
a way of breathing.

We forget that language is built of breath. We see the written word and we read it silently. Words become mental concepts, tools of the intellect. But words are not fundamentally discrete units of meaning. They flow and stop and flow again, as the breath does. Words aren’t inherently meaningful; they are the ornaments that accompany the flow of awareness.

Words affect breath. Thoughts affect breath. Breath guides awareness.

…breathing to sustain
looking…

Through the breath, we bring the outside world inside us, inside the body, inside the awareness. The boundary between self and the world is bridged by the breath. Through breath, we touch, we feel, we internalize, we connect, we participate, we come alive. Through breath we move and we see.

…walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

Vision, language, breath… communion.


Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
More Books >>


Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Jewish

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Apr 06 2018

Buson – Clinging to the bell

Published by under Poetry

Clinging to the bell
by Buson

English version by Sam Hamill

Clinging to the bell,
he dozes so peacefully,
this new butterfly

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


/ Image by Rafaelfo /

This haiku is so precise and specific that you can’t help but step into the scene sketched for us: A butterfly dozing, at peace on an unstruck bell.

The moment suggests such stillness, yet there is that underlying tension and anticipation. That bell can be rung at any moment, startling the butterfly.

The bell might suggest a temple or monastery. It signals a change in awareness, the call to prayer or to duty.

Should we think of the butterfly as a butterfly? Or a monk, perhaps? Or ourselves? It is “new,” young, inexperienced. Is its peaceful rest naive? Or is it the natural result of its simplicity?

When the bell is struck, will the butterfly attain wakefulness, or lose its peace?

I really like the way this haiku can be turned around and around, yet we keep returning to that perfect still point, dozing on the unstruck bell.


Recommended Books: Buson

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


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

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

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Apr 04 2018

Rainer Maria Rilke – Sunset

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Sunset
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Robert Bly

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colours
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so helplessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs –-

leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

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


/ Image by MD. Hasibul Haque Sakib /

I love the duality of this poem, which is the duality of our own mental states.

In the painterly beauty of a sunset, we see a transfer occurring, the passing of colors from sky to earth.

Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colours
which it passes to a row of ancient trees.

We start to notice the “two worlds”: the brilliant but fading sky descending to the earth, while the earth’s horizon rises up into the night sky. Sky into earth, earth into sky, separating, yet also revolving into each other.

You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,

The fixed world of the day is now on the move, dividing and departing. Which one shall we ride into the evening? Which is our home?

leaving you, not really belonging to either,

While, in some mysterious way, these separate worlds of shifting earth and sky are also reconnecting and recombining to form a magical new reality at night that may lead to an unimagined world tomorrow.

Who and what are we as its witnesses? Are we silent, like the somnolent earth, or are we celestial and immense, like the star-strewn night sky, which speaks even in its silence?

Which are we, timid, contained, withdrawn, or standing up, reaching out, growing? Like the earth and the sky at brilliant sunset, we are all of these at once, intermingled.

We embody both the earthly and the heavenly, and perhaps they are not in opposition to each other. These qualities contrast and strengthen each other, together creating a wholeness within the world and within each of us as individuals journeying along the horizon where earth and heaven meet.

We are neither stone nor star, but both.

one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.

Have a beautiful day, and a wondrous sunset!


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

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


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

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Mar 28 2018

Thomas Merton – The Sowing of Meanings

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The Sowing of Meanings
by Thomas Merton

See the high birds! Is theirs 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


/ Image by NemanjaJ /

It is a sleepy, overcast morning here in Colorado. Clouds have been alternating with brilliant blue skies for several days. Spring is eager to awaken. The reviving world calls me to step out my front door, to 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 renewal of spring reminds us that so much life and possibility is buried just beneath the surface of the world. We move through our days glancing but rarely looking, brushing past but barely touching, all while a hidden green sap runs through everything, percolating, gestating, just awaiting its moment to blossom in a thousand forms into the world.

We can see a blade of grass or a flower on the branch, and smile but think nothing of it. Or we can really look, recognize the life behind its life, following its secret channels back to the pool of life. When we pay attention, we see not only the myriad expressions of lovely new life, we see life itself, that mysterious questing force that animates the entire universe.

When reading this poem, the question 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 during this Passover and Easter season.

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…


Recommended Books: Thomas Merton

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton A Thomas Merton Reader The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton Thomas Merton Monk & Poet: A Critical Study


Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Mar 23 2018

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


/ Image by JazzLoving Bastard /

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.


Recommended Books: Dorothy Walters

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension Some Kiss We Want: Poems Selected and New
More Books >>


Dorothy Walters, Dorothy Walters poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Mar 21 2018

Ivan M. Granger – When the Spring Thaw Comes

Published by under Poetry

When the Spring Thaw Comes
by Ivan M. Granger

Something they
won’t tell you –

That book of sins
you hide
beneath your pillow
matters
not at all.

When the spring thaw comes
we all go mad
and shred it,
tossing love notes
left and right
scribbled on the scraps.

— from Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania, Edited by Andrew Harvey / Edited by Jay Ramsay


/ Image by Ana-mcara /

It has been a while since I last featured one of my own poems. Something to welcome spring.

We all do it, keep a hidden notebook detailing each and every failing. When it comes to that book of self-recrimination, we memorize each page with a cruel clarity. We can list each imperfection. The tally on the final page tells us in blunt mathematics how we are not who we imagine we should be. We brutalize ourselves with this book.

It is not that any line item in this ledger is untrue or that we should not feel remorse when we stumble or cause hurt.

But something happens. Spring’s first dawn breaks. The old self, in stunned silence, just falls away. And with it goes all those old calculations.

All that then remains of those countless self-cruelties are our secret love notes written to a new self and a new world filled with new life.

Happy spring! And to all of my Persian and Middle Eastern friends, Happy Nowruz!


Recommended Books: Ivan M. Granger

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania Poems of Awakening: An International Anthology of Spiritual Poetry
More Books >>


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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Mar 16 2018

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


/ Image by xelcise /

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, with reverence and receptivity.

This is one of the great gifts of living nature, it can release us from our endless mental and social constructions. 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 its 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.


Recommended Books: R. S. Thomas

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

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

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Mar 09 2018

Anna Swir – Myself and My Person

Published by under Poetry

Myself and My Person
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

There are moments
when I feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.
This comforts and reassures me,
this heartens me,
just as my tridimensional body
is heartened by my own authentic shadow.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Until now that has not happened
but it does not settle the question.

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


/ Image by vanillapearl /

Something today by the wonderful Polish poet, Anna Swir.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

Whatever our background or belief system, we keep having this central encounter — that stranger, that shadow or twin, who is ourself.

Busy with our lives, we hunger for some experiences, struggle to avoid others, while some we just hope to survive. Then a moment comes, perhaps wondrous or utterly ordinary, and all our experiences fold in on themselves and there we discover our own selves for the first time experiencing them.

A strange division of self occurred somewhere in our forgotten formation, for we recognize that there are actually two “I”s: The “I” I assume myself to be, and the “I” that is “my own person,” who I really am.

It is absurd, really. We always know who we are, right? Who and what we are is the one constant in every instant of our lives. Yet somehow we encounter ourselves and it as if we are meeting a stranger for the first time. How can this self that I am be unknown to me? And how can this new self be so much bigger and less broken than I thought I was? Who is this stranger that I am?

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Just how different can this self of selves be from my daily self? Can it go one way, while I go another? What does that even mean? Can it be an “it,” separate from myself while still being myself? Which me is me, and which it is an it?

When we finally recognize our full selves, we have the opportunity to shift our identity. As this new self, we become immensely real in a way that the old, mundane self never quite was. The pretense of the prior self is revealed. The bigger self brightens and the old self is lost in the light.

So, my advice: If you stop at a street corner and notice your own person walking to the right, turn right and follow.


Recommended Books: Anna Swir

Talking to My Body Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems


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Mar 07 2018

Hakim Sanai – There is no place for place!

Published by under Poetry

There is no place for place!
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Ivan M. Granger

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space,
or the vast sky enclose
      the maker of heaven?

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
      and see me.”

Tell me, if the one you seek
is placeless,
why put your shoes on?
The real road
is found by polishing, polishing
      the mirror of your heart.

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


/ Image by RobertoBertero /

I’ve always loved these verses, but this morning it’s the middle verse that especially stands out to me–

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
      and see me.”

Mystics, through direct perception, often declare that there is a fundamental unity in existence. There is no real separation between beings. There is no separation between the individual and the Eternal.

But this raises a dilemma in the minds of some philosophers: In a reality where all is One, why then does the perception of separation and multiplicity emerge? Is that simply a false vision, a delusion, or does it serve a divine purpose, even if temporary? In other words, why does that externalized reality (“the world”) come into being?

One way this question is answered is to look at the journey of the individual human consciousness from birth, through individuation, to mature adulthood and, finally, hopefully, to wisdom and enlightenment. As newborn infants we don’t imagine ourselves to be separate from our mothers. There is hardly any self at all. Or, rather, self is so open that it is not a “self” in the normal sense. There is only Mother. And the wider reality is only the perception of sensation. This is a form of unity, but it is immature. This initial unity does not yet allow us to effectively interact with the wider, complex reality and embody our full potential.

Next, separation and individuation begins to occur. The toddler discovers a powerful word: “No!” A sense of self emerges. This is also when “the world” emerges. Wider reality becomes something outside ourselves, outside the self, separate. We get the dynamic of self and object, self and other.

That self-object dynamic is essential. It allows for interaction. It allows for experimentation and experience and growing comprehension. We gain a vantage point through which to perceive and understand reality. We gain a place to stand and to see.

As profound and necessary as this relationship with reality is, it is ultimately limited. It works well for the basic need of all beings to figure out how to survive and socially connect. But it is an incomplete picture, and it leaves us incomplete in ourselves. Even when, as mature adults, we learn the skills of the world, there is more. And we know it.

The wise woman or man is dedicated to continuing the maturation of the awareness, rediscovering that primal unity while integrating it with the hard-learned lessons of the world. This leads to true spiritual maturity, with vision and a place to stand, yet consciously connected to all things.

We need the world. We need a place to stand, so we can look and see. Eventually we once more see the One in the patterns of the many.

Then the idea of place falls away. Place only has meaning amidst the many, when seeking some segment of reality. But, when, in our full maturity, we seek the blissful vision of the Whole Reality, what meaning does place have anymore?

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space…?

Enough running about from place to place; we are on a journey to the placeless. Let’s kick off our shoes, sit down, and begin the quiet work of polishing that most secret center until we truly see, and know, and are lost in the vision…


Recommended Books: Hakim Sanai

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi
More Books >>


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

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Feb 28 2018

Yuan Mei – Climbing the Mountain

Published by under Poetry

Climbing the Mountain
by Yuan Mei

English version by J. P. Seaton

I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
                  for a poem to come…

Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
                  leaning on my staff.

How I’d love to be a master
                  of the blue sky’s art:

see how many sprigs of snow-white cloud
                  he’s brushed in so far today.

— from I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei, Translated by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by serenity-temptations /

I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
                  for a poem to come…

I think any artist can relate to this opening line. We have our rituals, half prayerful, half desperate, seeking to draw forth that intangible spark of inspiration.

And what is it we seek really? One more poem, one more compelling scene for our novel in progress, a new variation on a classic melody, just the right angle for our subject in charcoal? While important, those are details, not the art itself, not that intangible something we are really fishing for in the quiet tense moments before creation.

What we’re really seeking is a feeling, a sense of budding life and purpose behind the technique of our creation. It is not craft we seek, but the unnamed animating spirit that will bless our craft, bring it to life, and awaken something in everyone touched by this new creation.

But art itself can be a trap. At its best, it is a magical act, a shamanic endeavor that transforms and heals society, bringing forth new possibilities within the human spirit. But art can also be a bellows for the ego, a way to reinforce one’s self-importance and place in the world. Too often art starts to point back to the artist’s own face.

Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
                  leaning on my staff.

In such moments, perhaps it is best to step back from the busy work of one more creation and remember to widen our scope in order to restore perspective. Any human act of creation, no matter how filled with life and magic, can never match the artistry writ large in the world all around us.

How I’d love to be a master
                  of the blue sky’s art:

If we only recognize that spark when captured by a human hand, we have lost a vital connection to the greater reality.

We must regularly return to the pool of wonder itself, found most naturally where the human being is incidental. We must remember to recognize the real art everywhere present, unsigned, just the artist’s hidden smile.

That is where the real communication is happening. Where you and I are not the authors, but stand instead as quiet witnesses, that is where the most profound transformation occurs. That is the real magical encounter.

see how many sprigs of snow-white cloud
                  he’s brushed in so far today.

Restored, we then return to our own actions and creations as a modest reflection of the great artist’s work. Our work in the world becomes a form of participation rather than self-aggrandizement.


Recommended Books: Yuan Mei

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet Censored by Confucius: Ghost Stories of Yuan Mei


Yuan Mei, Yuan Mei poetry, Buddhist poetry Yuan Mei

China (1716 – 1798) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan
Taoist

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Feb 23 2018

Philip Booth – How to See a Deer

Published by under Poetry

How to See a Deer
by Philip Booth

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You’ve come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You’ve learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

— from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999, by Philip Booth


/ Image by Iamidaho /

With its elusiveness and profound stillness even in movement, the way it appears in the mist or vanishes into the forest (perhaps beckoning us to follow), deer represent to us that intangible reality we all seek on some level. The doe’s gentle face, suggests to us peace, beauty, trust. The stag’s majestic stance displaying his antlers, naturally evokes a primal sense of kingship and otherworldly might.

Naturally, the deer becomes a symbol for God, the Divine Beloved, the Messiah. But even when we set aside our religious lenses, we can’t help but feel that the solitary deer, encountered in a quiet moment, is an ambassador between worlds, hinting to us of another reality.

How do we meet this quiet spirit? How do we have the sacred encounter? The poet says it so beautifully: We go elsewhere, our own way. Next to wild places, and spots that invite rest and contemplation. Without expectations. With patience and trust. Pay attention to the rhythms of life all around. Trust your own nature. Listen to the inner voice. Learn to see anew. See what you see.

(Special thanks to Lalita Vajra for introducing me to this poem.)


Recommended Books: Philip Booth

Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999


Philip Booth, Philip Booth poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Philip Booth

US (1925 – 2007) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Philip Booth

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