Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Oct 28 2015

Ansari – Give Me

Published by under Poetry

Give Me
by Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

English version by Andrew Harvey

O Lord, give me a heart
I can pour out in thanksgiving.
Give me life
So I can spend it
Working for the salvation of the world.

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut

/ Image by Cristian Bernal /

My thoughts and prayers go out to the people and communities affected by the recent earthquake in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. We have several people on this mailing list from those regions. I hope you and your loved ones are safe.

With the region strongly in my mind, I thought I would select a poem by Sheikh Ansari of Herat (in western Afghanistan).

There is something so simple and profound… and universal in this prayer-poem. These words were given to us by a devout Muslim Sufi, but they could as well have been spoken by a Hindu satyagrahi, a Catholic liberation theologian, a Buddhist peace worker, a Protestant homeless advocate, or any sincere soul striving to awaken the Divine within ourselves and our world.

Notice that Sheikh Ansari gives us two parallel statements, and they balance each other.

The first statement–

O Lord, give me a heart
I can pour out in thanksgiving.

–addresses our interior state. It is a prayer to be given a heart, or to recognize our heart, awakening it. It is a prayer of centering, of coming to know the center of one’s being… and allowing that self to flow.

That flow naturally expresses itself through gratitude, thanksgiving. The flow of the heart is a gift we pour out into the world. It is the offering of one’s self.

So, first he asks for self-recognition, centering, and a gratitude which can be shared with the world.


Give me life
So I can spend it
Working for the salvation of the world.

–the poet turns that awareness outward through action. He requests life, but not to bolster his ego or rack up good stories to tell; he asks for life that he may be of service.

Now, that phrase “working for the salvation of the world,” may make some of us cringe. The term “salvation” has been abducted by rigid religious literalists, equating salvation with subscribing to their specific belief systems. But, despite what is thundered from the pulpits and the minbars, salvation has little to do with belief or which group one joins. It is about healing, the easing of pain, the renewal of hope, and a deepening relationship with truth. On a social level, this is best expressed through selfless, nonjudgmental service. On the spiritual level, working for salvation is about humbly peeling away the obstructions that keep individuals and the world as a whole from recognizing their inherent beauty and heavenly potential.

On a certain level, service in the world is a sort of religious ritual, an outward enactment of an inner process. We may help one person or a hundred or a thousand, but suffering continues in the world. The numbers game leads to discouragement. But with each kind act, small or large, we give away a little more ego, we open our eyes a little more, we feel a little more connected, and more and more we come to discover that serene, heavenly Self at rest within.

Ansari seems to be saying to us, when we discover beauty within, it naturally flows out of us into the world. And when we pour ourselves out for the healing of the world, we find wholeness within.

Recommended Books: Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Ibn ‘Ata’ Illah the Book of Wisdom/Kwaja Abdullah Ansari Intimate Conversations Munajat: The Intimate Invocations
More Books >>

Khwaja Abdullah Ansari, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Khwaja Abdullah Ansari

Afghanistan (1006 – 1088) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 23 2015

Book: A Moonlit Teahouse

A Moonlit Teahouse: Anthology of Sacred Poetry

A Moonlit Teahouse: Anthology of Sacred Poetry
Edited by silent lotus, Dick Holmes, et. al.

A Moonlit Teahouse is a delightful new anthology of sacred poetry by contemporary poets (including a few by yours truly).

I also wrote the introduction. “It is the job of theologians, philosophers, and scientists to precisely describe the human experience of reality. Most of us simply accept those definitions. A rare few catch the glow pouring through the cracks. We call these strange people visionaries, mystics… poets.”

This is not a Poetry Chaikhana publication, but it is published by a group of poets who connected through the Poetry Chaikhana, which makes me a proud grandfather of sorts. All sales of this book go to support the Ninash Foundation which does wonderful work promoting literacy among girls and minority children in rural India.

When you purchase a copy, your money will be a gift to others and the poetry will be a gift to yourself.

Read more at:

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Oct 21 2015

Ramakrishna – Is there anyone in the universe

Published by under Poetry

Is there anyone in the universe
by Ramakrishna

English version by Lex Hixon

Is there anyone in the universe,
among heavenly or earthly beings,
who can understand what Kali is?
The systems of all traditions
are powerless to describe Her.
Is Mother a feminine being
or greater than Being itself?

Chanting Her transforming Name —
empowers Lord Shiva,
Who is transcendent Knowledge,
to drink the negativity of all beings,
turning His Throat dark blue.
Without Her protection
such poison would be deadly,
even to the highest Divinity.

More than Creator and creation,
Mother is sheer Creativity
beyond the notion of duality.
Universe and Father-God
are thrilling glances
from Her seductive Eyes.
Always pregnant with ecstasy,
She gives birth to manifest Being
from Her Womb of primal Awareness,
nursing it tenderly at Her Breast,
then playfully consumes Her Child.
The world dissolves instantly
upon touching Her white Teeth,
attaining the realization
of Her brilliant Voidness.

The various Divine Forms
that manifest throughout history
take refuge at Her Lotus Feet.
The Essence of Divinity,
the Great Ground of Being,
lies in ecstatic absorption
beneath Her red-soled Feet.

Is Mother simply a Goddess?
Does She need a male consort
to protect or complete Her?
The cycle of birth and death
bows reverently before Her.
Is She simply naked
or is She naked Truth?
No veil can conceal Her.
Her naked radiance slays demons
not with weapons but with splendor.

If Mother is a conventional wife,
why is She dancing fiercely
on the breast of Shiva?
Her timeless play destroys
conventions and conceptions.
She is primal purity,
Her ecstatic lovers are purity.
Purity merges into purity,
with no remainder.

I am totally inebriated
by Her wine of timeless bliss.
The wine cup is Her Name —
Those drunk on ordinary wine
assume I am one of them.

Not everyone will encounter
the dazzling darkness
called Goddess Kali.
Not everyone can consciously receive
the infinite treasure of Her Nature.
The foolish mind refuses
to perceive and accept
that She alone exists.
Even the noble Lord Shiva,
most enlightened of beings,
can barely catch a glimpse
of Her flashing crimson Feet.

The wealth of world-emperors
and the richness of Paradise
are but abject poverty
to those who meditate on Her.
To swim in a single Glance
from Her three Cosmic Eyes
is to be immersed
in an ocean of ecstasy.

Not even Shiva, prince of yogis,
can focus upon Her dancing Feet
without falling into trance.
Yet the worthless lover
who sings this mad song
aspires to conscious union with Her
during waking, dream, and deep sleep.

— from Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna, by Lex Hixon

/ Image by Chobist /

This is the final day of the Hindu festival of Navaratri, the Nine Nights dedicated to the many aspects of the Mother Goddess. I thought it might be appropriate to honor the holiday by featuring a poem by the gentle saint Ramakrishna about the fierce Mother Goddess Kali.

In Hindu tradition and metaphysics, the Goddess represents many aspects of the Divine. The iconography we find in Hinduism gives us a fascinating kaleidoscope of meaning. The Goddess can represent Mother, the Great Source, the Void/Womb from which all are born, Manifestation, Creation, Vibration, Speech, Song, the Arts, Beauty, Darkness, Mystery, all of the World (and all its Illusions). But with birth, also comes death, with manifestation, also comes dissolution; anything with a beginning also has an end. Only the eternal is eternal. So the Goddess, Mother and Manifestor, is also sometimes portrayed as Destroyer. She is Life and Death both. She is the Power that brings all into being, animates and enlivens the universe, and also draws it back into non-being. But even in Her fiercest aspect, the Mother Goddess is loving. For Her, death is merely the death of illusion and the return to Self.

This poem — I call it a poem, but it is more of an ecstatic utterance by the great Ramakrishna — plays with a particular descriptive challenge in the representations of Kali. On the one hand, Kali is a Goddess, often paired with the God Shiva. A popular representation of the two is with Shiva lying prone on the ground, while Kali dances upon his breast, slaying demons. It can be a disturbing image to people not familiar with the iconography of Kali. But what is it saying, and how does it fit in with the philosophy of this gentle, greatly revered Hindu saint, Ramakrishna?

Hinduism often expresses the fundamental polarity of Male and Female in images of the divine couple, the God and Goddess paired together. Within this God-Goddess dichotomy, the masculine aspect of the Divine usually represents transcendent spirit, while the feminine expresses manifestation, power, and action. So prone Shiva, represents the transcendent, which is inactive, but which holds the divine potential. Kali dances upon his breast, representing that potential coming into manifestation. Through Her sheer power, Kali destroys the demons that represent illusion and disharmony.

But, just as this God-Goddess pairing represents different facets of the Divine, any God or Goddess can simultaneously be understood to embody the whole of the Divine. In this way, Kali can both be an aspect and also the Absolute.

And this is what Ramakrishna is teasing us with here. Is Kali the consort of Shiva? Is She the feminine aspect of God, or God entire?

Is Mother a feminine being
or greater than Being itself?…

Is Mother simply a Goddess?
Does She need a male consort
to protect or complete Her?

Even within Hinduism and its rich, varied depictions of the Feminine aspect of the Divine, there is still a tendency to elevate the Male forms, such as Shiva. Ramakrishna seems to delight in overturning convention. To him, one must simply follow the Mother and, as She reveals more and more of Her nature — her manifestation, her play of illusions and revelations — our vision of Her expands to encompass the All. To Ramakrishna, the Goddess is Mother and Consort, but She is equally the Totality itself. He taunts us to untangle that conundrum through our own direct perception.

Whether we are talking about Kali or Saraswati or Cerridwen, Mother Mary or Shekinah, let us not forget to honor the feminine in the Divine — and in our world, and in ourselves.

Recommended Books: Ramakrishna

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna The Condensed Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
More Books >>

Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Ramakrishna

India (1836 – 1886) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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Oct 16 2015

Symeon the New Theologian – The Light of Your Way

Published by under Poetry

The Light of Your Way
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Holy are you, O Lord, holy, blessed and One.
Holy are you, and generous

for you have flooded my heart
      with the light of your way,

and you have raised up in me
      the Tree of Life.

You have shown me a new heaven
      upon the earth.
You have shown me a secret Garden,
      unseen within the seen.

Now am I joined soul and spirit
      present in your Presence —

your Presence that has waited long in me,
your Presence, the true Tree of Life,
      planted in whatever this earth is,
      planted in whatever it is that men are,
            planted, and rooted in the heart,

your Presence all at once revealing your Paradise
alive with every good green thing:
      grasses and trees and the fruiting bounty,
      a world of flowers!
            sweet-scented lilies!

Each little flower speaks a truth:
      humility and joy,
      peace, oh peace!
      kindness, compassion,
            the turning of the soul,

and the flood of tears
and the strange ecstasy
      of those bathed in your light.

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

/ Image by indojo /

Notice the imagery of light (a constant theme in Symeon’s poetry)–

for you have flooded my heart
      with the light of your way…

–and the Tree of Life–

and you have raised up in me
      the Tree of Life.

These lead us to recognize God’s Presence within:

Now am I joined soul and spirit
      present in your Presence —

your Presence that has waited long in me…

Knowing the sacred Presence, our blindness is removed and we finally see through the surface of things.

You have shown me a new heaven
      upon the earth.
You have shown me a secret Garden,
      unseen within the seen.

We discover the heaven that has always been hidden within the earth, shining beneath the gauze of the seen.

That leads to a startling realization: All of creation, the living earth itself, is a sacred, living garden, waiting for our eyes to open:

your Presence all at once revealing your Paradise
alive with every good green thing:
      grasses and trees and the fruiting bounty,
      a world of flowers!
            sweet-scented lilies!

People are always looking for their paradise somewhere else, somewhere “out there,” but it is always and ever right here, within, in the present moment, present in the Presence. The problem is in how we see the living planet and our own selves — or, rather, how we don’t see them.

your Presence, the true Tree of Life,
      planted in whatever this earth is,
      planted in whatever it is that men are,
            planted, and rooted in the heart…

The Tree of Life is the center of the Garden, yet it is rooted in the heart. When we finally see it within, we see it everywhere, for it fills our awareness. As we find our hearts and discover the real life within, then we naturally interact with each other and the planet in awe and reverence. And in this way we steadily reveal paradise to one another.

Each little flower speaks a truth:
      humility and joy,
      peace, oh peace!
      kindness, compassion,
            the turning of the soul,

and the flood of tears
and the strange ecstasy
      of those bathed in your light.

Recommended Books: Symeon the New Theologian

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives Hymns of Divine Love: Songs of praise by one of the great mystics of all church history
More Books >>

Symeon the New Theologian, Symeon the New Theologian poetry, Christian poetry Symeon the New Theologian

Turkey (949 – 1032) Timeline
Christian : Eastern Orthodox

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Oct 09 2015

Masahide – Barn’s burnt down

Published by under Poetry

Barn’s burnt down
by Masahide

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Barn’s burnt down —
I can see the moon.

— from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto

/ Image by Alex37 /

I love this haiku. Using so few words, it still manages to say so much.

The moon, as I have pointed out before, is often used in Zen poetry to represent Buddha-mind, awakened awareness. The burnt barn can suggest worldly calamity and loss which can suddenly open us to the radical, serene truth that surrounds us everywhere. Or the barn can represent our own self-enclosing thoughts, “burned” down by spiritual practice and the ecstatic psychic spaciousness that can result.

So read that haiku again. Line-by-line:

The old structure, the barn has burnt down. It has collapsed, been cleared away.

Now. Now– The shock has brought us, stunned, into the present moment.

The psychic field cleared, finally we can see the luminous moon, the light of enlightenment.

Recommended Books: Masahide

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter Japanese Death Poems


Japan (1657? – 1723) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Sep 30 2015

Akka Mahadevi – Like a silkworm weaving

Published by under Poetry

Like a silkworm weaving
by Akka Mahadevi

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

Like a silkworm weaving
her house with love
from her marrow,
                  and dying
in her body’s threads
winding tight, round
and round,
                  I burn
desiring what the heart desires.

Cut through, O lord,
my heart’s greed,
and show me
your way out,

O lord white as jasmine.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

/ Image by schmoo15 /

The Pope’s visit to the US. The terrible tragedy in Mecca recently. I’m not sure that my thoughts on these events have settled enough to comment on them. In the background we also had a celestial event of note…

Did you get a chance to watch the moon’s eclipse on Sunday? We had a stunning show where I live in Colorado, a massive orange moon climbing above the horizon at dusk, the first shadow appearing about 7:00 pm as the moon rose higher in the evening sky, and by 8:00 o’clock the full eclipse, then slowly the shadow passed into the night.

An eclipse is a powerful reminder to contemplate the shadows in life.

The thing about the dark parts of life and the dark parts of our own psyches is not so much that we are supposed to disown them or even transcend them. Often the real spiritual growth is when we recognize them and make room for them, finding ways to re-integrate them into a larger, more complete sense of self and world. But what does that really mean?

What we call the shadow is not necessarily harmful or destructive, it is simply what is hidden. It is what we have hidden from our own surface awareness. It is not something that is “bad” or “evil.” Most often what we have pushed into shadows is something painful, frightening. It only becomes destructive when we try to keep it chained in the shadow; then that imprisoned part of ourselves acts out violently, disrupting our polite, carefully crafted exteriors, demanding attention.

The eclipse invites us to really sit in the darkness and see what’s there. It is meant to be uncomfortable. We have the opportunity to become more comfortable with discomfort. We can learn to feel more of ourselves, we learn to recognize the lost, discarded, and scapegoated parts of ourselves. If we are wise, we stop exiling them into darkness and begin to listen to what they have to say, about ourselves, about our world, and it becomes possible to consciously craft healthier expressions of their energies. That all sounds very psychological, but there is an essential spiritual and energetic process occurring here as well: By reclaiming those condemned parts of ourselves, we become more complete, more aware of our whole Self, and our spiritual energies become more fully available to us, enabling more natural and spontaneous spiritual opening.

Despite the religious stories, true saints and sages are rarely brittle ideologues full of condemnation. It takes a nuanced sense of the complexity of the self and a compassionate awareness of the difficult, often traumatic experiences of human life, all integrated with a true artist’s skill — just to free up the spiritual energy necessary for deep spiritual awakening.

The lesson of the eclipse, the lesson of the eclipsed parts of ourselves, is to stop seeking artificial ideas of perfection through severance, but to seek wholeness through wise, compassionate, and careful integration.

Today’s poem by Akka Mahadevi is just haunting enough to contemplate in the aftermath of the eclipse.

Like a silkworm weaving
her house with love
from her marrow…

Akka Mahadevi’s silkworm weaving a cocoon becomes a striking, visceral image of the divine impulse to turn inward, creating an interior space from one’s love and the very marrow of one’s being.

But the process can feel claustrophobic, suffocating. There is inevitably an encounter with death:

…and dying
in her body’s threads
winding tight, round
and round,

Looking inward we come to a confrontation with ourselves, all of our being, the shadow as well as the light. It is painful, frightening. Seeing ourselves so nakedly, we often find our deep wells of shame and self-condemnation. Yet we can no longer turn away.

At this harsh moment, something must die for the silkworm’s transformation to proceed. The immature worm itself must die, the old, limited, divided sense of self realizes it cannot continue. The silkworm must summon every ounce of energy, available only from its whole, undivided self, if it wants to emerge and fly.

The spiritual path is not about navel gazing. It is life and death, and understanding the energies of each.

I burn
desiring what the heart desires.

Why does the rest of the poem shift and talk about desire and greed?

One way to understand the spiritual path is as a confrontation with addiction. Does that sound like a strange statement? Let’s consider the question for a moment…

Spiritual traditions all over the world speak of the problem of desire. I mean, where would institutional religion be without favorite words like “covet” and “lust”? But the real spiritual core of this teaching is not about sexual prudery, it is about the problem of allowing the awareness to become fixated on transient, outward, sensory-fed experiences that distract us from inner growth and wholeness. Another way of saying this is that the real problem is addiction.

Addiction, when we think about it, isn’t really about substance abuse, it is about attachment and the inability to let go. I would go even further and say that it is the unconscious belief that we somehow *are* the things and experiences we are attached to. We associate the feelings of that outer experience with life, but when that experience changes — as things have a tendency to do — we then react with terror and desperation because that feeling of life is about to change or diminish.

Overcoming addiction always, always demands a confrontation with death. It requires the painful recognition that whatever the experience, when it ends, we may experience terror, pain, or grief with shattering intensity… but what we really are continues, surprisingly alive and well.

Cut through, O lord,
my heart’s greed,
and show me
your way out…

The heart’s greed… The heart is the self, one’s center. During the most profound states of self-awareness, the sense of one’s full Self is felt to be without limit or location, but, shifted to the individual level, it is simultaneously felt to be majestically at rest within the center of the breast. This is why so much spiritual language refers to the heart as the spiritual center. And the heart is inherently complete.

When the heart becomes “greedy” and desires something outside of itself, we have falsely externalized ourself — and that is when attachment begins and we start to experience problems on a spiritual level. It isn’t so much that certain activities or desires are evil or unspiritual, it is that we are no longer centered in the true self, and we have become confused as to what that “self” actually is. The result is that we end up feeling fragmented and incomplete. In order to re-experience wholeness we try to regain self though the compulsive pursuit of outer experiences and sensations, but it never quite works because the real self is always found within.

Clearly, I am not talking only about narcotics, alcohol, or other substances we normally associate with the word “addiction.” Looked at this way, virtually anything can be — and often is — addictive. Anything that draws the awareness out from the heart and holds it while compelling action to perpetuate the outward focus can be called addiction.

One can even go so far as to say that the ego is a phenomenon of addiction. When we falsely perceive ourselves as our outer experiences, we find ourselves caught in the tides of compulsive actions and reactions, all serving to strengthen that exteriorized self.

But the more we re-integrate those enshadowed, exiled parts of ourselves with our conscious being, the more inherent fulness we feel, and the less vulnerable we are to such problematic patterns of “greed” and psychic addiction. This does not mean that one necessarily avoids pleasure or pain or any experience, just that one becomes more aware of their hooks, and then chooses healthier ones without clinging to them as they pass, while remaining more fully engaged with the heart’s upwelling joy.

Addiction, death, shadow… too much? Did I mention that the eclipse is also a good time to unleash your inner Goth? Black nail polish anyone?

I hope you have a beautiful day, and a rich night. Sending love.

Recommended Books: Akka Mahadevi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Speaking of Siva The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Voices Through the Ages

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

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

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Sep 23 2015

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – look at love

Published by under Poetry

look at love
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Nader Khalili

look at love
how it tangles
with the one fallen in love

look at spirit
how it fuses with earth
giving it new life
why are you so busy
with this or that or good or bad
pay attention to how things blend

why talk about all
the known and the unknown
see how the unknown merges into the known

why think separately
of this life and the next
when one is born from the last

look at your heart and tongue
one feels but deaf and dumb
the other speaks in words and signs

look at water and fire
earth and wind
enemies and friends all at once

the wolf and the lamb
the lion and the deer
far away yet together

look at the unity of this
spring and winter
manifested in the equinox

you too must mingle my friends
since the earth and the sky
are mingled just for you and me

be like sugarcane
sweet yet silent
don’t get mixed up with bitter words

my beloved grows right out of my own heart
how much more union can there be

— from Rumi: Fountain of Fire, Translated by Nader Khalili

/ Image by Lenny Montana /

It is the equinox, when the length of day and night become equal, when summer gives way to fall (or winter to spring, for you southerners). It is a global transition point. A threshold. A time to release the old and welcome the new.

More than any other time of the year, we are reminded to stand centered on this very moment, neither leaning back nor tipping forward, and feel how memory reweaves itself into new possibility. It is during the equinox that a new dream is formed, a new vision of ourself, a new vision of the world. What new dream waits inside you?

look at the unity of this
spring and winter
manifested in the equinox

As the equinox joins the past with the future, we have a greater opportunity to see how all things that seem separate, distant, in conflict are really a continual union.

the wolf and the lamb
the lion and the deer
far away yet together

Even life and death we imagine to be incompatible opposites, when the two flow naturally together, making them one.

why think separately
of this life and the next
when one is born from the last

It is this recognition of unity everywhere that makes the mystic’s journey possible.

the known and the unknown
see how the unknown merges into the known

A journey within the known is no journey at all. But a journey entirely in the unknown leads to disorientation and confusion. A mystic learns to recognize that indistinct threshold, where the known and the unknown merge. We start from there, take attentive steps, and discover that the borderland moves with us into new territories. The meeting point becomes internalized until we recognize that every hill and hollow of the unknown is secretly bordering the known, allowing the mystic to continually reorient and journey on.

This teaches us two things: When we feel lost in the unknown, all we must do is stop, grow still, and see once again familiar territory nearby. The other lesson is that when we feel stuck in the known, we don’t need an elaborate escape to exotic corners of the world; wherever we are, we just need to take the unexpected step, and a new path opens up before us.

But no path leads from A to B. A path is not an inconvenient distance that allows us to escape from one place and rush to another. Every path is ultimately a reminder that A and B are joined. Properly understood, every journey recalls the awareness of union to the heart.

my beloved grows right out of my own heart
how much more union can there be

Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Open Secret: Versions of Rumi
More Books >>

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

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

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Sep 18 2015

Rainer Maria Rilke – As once the winged energy of delight

Published by under Poetry

As once the winged energy of delight
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

As once the winged energy of delight
carried you over childhood’s dark abysses,
now beyond your own life build the great
arch of unimagined bridges.

Wonders happen if we can succeed
in passing through the harshest danger;
but only in a bright and purely granted
achievement can we realize the wonder.

To work with Things in the indescribable
relationship is not too hard for us;
the pattern grows more intricate and subtle,
and being swept along is not enough.

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the chasm between two
contradictions… For the god
wants to know himself in you.

— from Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell

/ Image by u07ch /

I get the sense that many people are dealing with intensities in their lives right now, difficulties and fears rising up. And in the headlines there is a heightened sense of tensions ready to snap.

I offer this poem by Rilke as a balm. He seems to be saying something about the power of intangible feeling, imagination, and hope as the surest way to navigate through life’s threats.

And something about the pure beauty of this poem heals as it awakens. Take a moment and reread the lines of this poem. Feel them as they settle upon your mind, line by line.

the winged energy of delight…
childhood’s dark abysses…
unimagined bridges…

Words written with such heart, words of deep kindness and empathy from a poet who witnessed the terrible traumas of the early 20th century. Words of a modern man who keenly felt the psychic schism of the modern era, and sought integration.

Take your practiced powers and stretch them out
until they span the chasm between two

All leading us to that final line which sums up the real reason for the world and our journey through its dangers and delights:

For the god
wants to know himself in you.

Be kind to yourself and those around you this weekend — and have a beautiful day!

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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Sep 15 2015

Layman P’ang – When the mind is at peace

Published by under Poetry

When the mind is at peace
by P’ang Yun (Layman P’ang)

English version by Stephen Mitchell

When the mind is at peace,
the world too is at peace.
Nothing real, nothing absent.
Not holding on to reality,
not getting stuck in the void,
you are neither holy nor wise, just
an ordinary fellow who has completed his work.

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

/ Image by makani5 /

When the mind is at peace
The world too is at peace.

This is such a lovely statement that seems to feed so naturally into a serene state, but it is also saying something very powerful that overturns our common assumptions.

Most often we imagine that if our lives and society and the world as a whole would just settle down, then perhaps we could experience peace. And so we turn all of our efforts outward, trying to force a sense of peace in the world. That doesn’t usually work so well, does it?

It can get to the point that turning inward, prayer, meditation can feel like a betrayal, as if we are abandoning the outer world to chaos, while we selfishly seek a separate sort of peace.

But the strange truth is that we don’t create a peaceful environment and then experience peace. The reality is the reverse. We discover peace within, and only then can we recognize it without. More surprising still is that we come to see that the “world” outside of ourselves is but a reflection of our own inner state. When we discover peace within, the world comes to rest as well. Does that mean problems in the world disappear? No. But we recognize the peace that underlies even those problems, and we begin to see new ways to coax that peace to the surface. At peace, in peace, we invite peace.

Nothing real, nothing absent.
Not holding on to reality,
not getting stuck in the void…

Enlightened awareness is not a game of carefully constructed definitions. It is not a feat of the intellect, which tends to separate and categorize perceived reality. Even at its most subtle and incisive, when the intellect tries to separate the real from the non-real, it is setting up a filter upon the awareness.

When the mind is truly at peace, not only have thoughts come to a rest, but more importantly those unconscious mental filters no longer pre-sift the perception of reality.

The poet seems to be describing a trail for us to follow, a path found precisely where existence meets Nirvana, and we must gracefully walk between the two.

With no clinging to either “reality” or “void,” the whole and unfiltered vision comes upon us.

Engulfed by this truth, we are not “wise” or “holy” — those are further categories. No, we just are. We are not this or that, we are.

…an ordinary fellow who has completed his work.

We no longer feel the need to do something to validate our existence; we undeniably are. No work remains to be done. One may still be active in the world, but there is no “work” behind it, simply the dance of stillness, presence, and flow. Observers may disagree, but you understand that all that seemed important about your identity has trickled away, and you have become unremarkable, purely as you are — an ordinary fellow, alive in this extraordinary world.

Recommended Books: P’ang Yun (Layman P’ang)

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Sayings of Layman P’ang: A Zen Classic

P'ang Yun (Layman P'ang), P'ang Yun (Layman P'ang) poetry, Buddhist poetry P’ang Yun (Layman P’ang)

China (740? – 808) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Sep 09 2015

Arapaho Ghost Dance Songs

Published by under Poetry

Arapaho Ghost Dance Songs

The whole world is coming,
a nation is coming, a nation is coming.
The Eagle has brought the message to the people.
The father says so, the father says so.
Over the whole earth they are coming.
The buffalo are coming, the buffalo are coming.
The Crow has brought the message to the people,
the father says so, the father says so.

My children, my children,
it is I who wear the morning star on my brow,
it is I who wear the morning star on my brow.
I show it to my children,
I show it to my children.

— from Native American Songs and Poems: An Anthology (Dover Thrift Editions), Edited by Brian Swann

/ Image by USFWS Mountain-Prairie /

I apologize about the hiatus in poem emails. Late summer seems to be especially hard on my chronic fatigue patterns, probably some interaction with environmental allergies. I managed to tough it out and keep minimal work hours at my day job over the past few weeks, but the rest of the time I needed to rest and heal. I think (or at least hope) my body is past the worst of it now. Thanks for your patience and understanding.

The buffalo are coming, the buffalo are coming.

When my wife and I first moved to Colorado, we would go for drives up in the mountains and also through country roads in the flat plains, getting to know this land. As a city boy who spent his teenage years in Los Angeles, the vistas were stunning to me. And one of the most startling sights was coming across small herds of buffalo. With their massive heads, dense bodies, mountainous shoulder humps, they seem somehow prehistoric, earthy and primal and unsettling. I immediately loved the sight of them. We would stop by the side of the road and, from the safety of our car, watch them. The nearest bull might lift his massive head and gaze at us before walking off to rejoin the rest of his herd amidst the yellowing grasses. A good reminder for this city kid that our car was the alien there, while the buffalo was at home.

We tend to think we are being generous when we make room for other creatures in the world, but that is a modern delusion. No matter how completely cities and human environments seem to us to be the “real” world, it is all, always, built on the foundation of the natural world, and utterly dependent on it. We need the world’s other creatures nearby, and in our midst, if we want a lasting society that works well with the world that is our only home. The more society severs that connection, the more unstable it becomes. Those strange, unsettling buffalo are essential to a human society that hopes to last.

Toward the end of the U.S. genocidal wars against the American Indians in the 1800s, and the accompanying devastation of the buffalo herds that the Indian nations of the plains depended on, a visionary movement arose. At its center was the Ghost Dance, in which the spirits (or “ghosts”) of the lost people and buffalo were called forth. This spiritual movement was many things in the midst of the American Indian holocaust, but at its core the Ghost Dance movement was a multi-tribal metaphysical effort to return the world to balance and restore what was lost. That is why we have visionary affirmations, like “a nation is coming, a nation is coming” and “the buffalo are coming, the buffalo are coming.”

Reading these sacred words of summoning, it might be worth taking a few moments to contemplate not only what Native Americans lost, but also what continues to be lost, destroyed, or pushed aside in the world even today.

How do we relate to the natural world? How do we relate to the Sacred? How do we relate within our communities? How do we interact with other communities and peoples? Do our social structures make room for human needs, relationships, hopes, and complexity? In other words, does society serve the world, natural and human, or merely attempt dominate them?

But we must also ask, What are the good things in modern world culture? Where does hope sprout and spirit bud? That’s there too.

Most importantly, how do we draw on our connection to that which is living and sacred in order to establish and protect harmonious ways?

What makes the world worth living in?

To start, we must, each of us, each in our own unique way, discover the life and light we possess, so we can say with unassailable certainty, “it is I who wear the morning star on my brow.” And we must show this truth to our children…

Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: Arapaho (Anonymous)

Native American Songs and Poems: An Anthology (Dover Thrift Editions)

Arapaho (Anonymous)

US (19th Century) Timeline
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : American Indian

More poetry by Arapaho (Anonymous)

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Aug 28 2015

Hadewijch – God must give us a renewed mind

Published by under Poetry

God must give us a renewed mind (from Vale Millies)
by Hadewijch

English version by Mother Columba Hart

God must give us a renewed mind
      For nobler and freer love,
To make us so new in our life
      That Love may bless us
And renew, with new taste,
      Those to whom she can give new fulness;
Love is the new and powerful recompense
      Of those whose life renews itself for Love alone.
— Ay, vale, vale, millies —
      That renewing of new Love
— Si dixero, non satis est —
      Which renewal will newly experience.

— from Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) , by Mother Columba Hart

/ Image by rlandesaaa /

God must give us a renewed mind
      For nobler and freer love,

There is something about this opening line that carries both hope and… relief. As we go through life, often struggling through our encounters, we develop psychic survival patterns as ways to cope and move forward. These patterns of thinking and perception may be entirely necessary at the time, or at least they are the best we can imagine in the confusion of the moment, but then we become trapped by the mental patterns we ourselves have devised. These habits of mind often imprint so deeply that we forget they are there and we imagine they are reality itself. Our behaviors, what we think is possible, who we think we are, all result from these self-created patterns of the mind.

When the spirit seeks freedom, liberation, salvation, it is from precisely this: the rigid and over-patterned awareness. Growth requires space, new ground, fresh air, possibility. The mind must be renewed.

For us to recognize or receive or realize a “nobler and freer love,” to discover that something that will “make us so new in our life,” the mind itself must rest and reset. It must become clear and open, a new space ready for the possibility of new awareness.

This is the renewing power of meditation and prayer.

We become ready to receive the mystic’s love. For those of us shaped by the modern world, it is difficult to read the word “love” and understand it. It’s a word that’s bandied about but with little meaning beyond infatuation or loyalty. But when mystics utter the word “love,” we are in the rush of the most profound flood of transformative energy. It is an experience of the Divine, the healing, unifying touch upon the awareness, in which we recognize that all is one, all is beauty, and all is within one’s heart.

Within the phrases of this poem, there is a sense of letting go as we are renewed. When we translate that first Latin phrase — Ay, vale, vale, millies “Ay, farewell, farewell, a thousand times” — we are saying goodbye over and over again. The following line seems to say we are letting go, again and again, of Love itself… yet it keeps coming back to us, repeatedly renewing us, comforting and filling us anew with is own presence as this most “powerful recompense.” So the renewal itself endlessly renews itself, making this divine Love a perpetually new experience. We have the image not of trapping or acquiring this new experience but, instead, of a force that flows through us, continuously passing through us, while all the mystic can do is remain open.

Si dixero, non satis est “If I speak, it is not enough.” Can words truly describe it?

Recommended Books: Hadewijch

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages Meister Eckhart and the Beguine Mystics: Hadewijch of Brabant, Mechthild of Magdeburg, and Marguerite Porete
More Books >>

Hadewijch, Hadewijch poetry, Christian poetry Hadewijch

Belgium (13th Century) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Aug 26 2015

Sarmad – He dwells not only in temples and mosques

Published by under Poetry

He dwells not only in temples and mosques
by Sarmad

English version by Isaac A. Ezekiel

He dwells not only in temples and mosques —
The whole creation is his abode.
The whole world is bewitched by his tale,
      but wise are those who are lost in his love.

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

/ Image by InSUNNYty /

He dwells not only in temples and mosques —
The whole creation is his abode.

We humans tend to like our categories and definitions, a sort of thinking that’s very effective in the world. But that same form of thinking ensnares us when we engage with the deeper aspects of reality. We want to know where to go to find God. We want to know what to do, how to act, what to keep separate from, so that we might know ourselves to be holy. That approach can help to focus our intention… in the beginning. But at some point we need Sarmad’s reminder: Everything is sacred. All of creation is holy ground. There is no boundary to the Eternal.

Where you are, worship.

The whole world is bewitched by his tale,
      but wise are those who are lost in his love.

I really like these two lines. All of existence isn’t ‘real’ in the way we usually imagine it to be. Creation isn’t fixed; it flows. Things don’t exist in and of themselves; they are actually relationships, an immense network of interaction. Seen this way, everything we experience is part of a drama. Any good storyteller knows that a good tale plays with fears and joys and questions of survival, hooking our attention while surreptitiously revealing something of the deeper truths of life.

As Sarmad says, the whole world is a story told by God. It is so rich and detailed that we can become “bewitched” by it. We become like actors who forget that there is a backstage. The wise, however, lose themselves — their costumes, their egos. They know, once they’ve said their few lines, how to fall silent again, and enjoy the unfolding tale from the wings.

And I think there is an even deeper flavor to the meaning of these final lines. So often we want to master the dramas of life by knowing, by comprehending, by understanding. And that is, for the most part, an entirely valid endeavor. But it is also an ever-expanding pursuit. The wise are those who have stumbled onto another way: yielding all effort into the open heart, rest is found, and presence, and completeness. Meaning and knowing are found, while the efforts of the mind trail off into silence somewhere in the background. The wise invite us to cease our searching, searching, and, instead, to find that sort of love, the sort of love that brings everything, every story to a halt. And they invite us to sweetly dissolve into it.

Recommended Books: Sarmad

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 Sarmad: Martyr to Love Divine Sarmad: Jewish Saint of India
More Books >>


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

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Aug 19 2015

Thomas Merton – Follow my ways

Published by under Poetry

Follow my ways and I will lead you
by Thomas Merton

Follow my ways and I will lead you
To golden-haired suns,
Logos and music, blameless joys,
Innocent of questions
And beyond answers.
For I, Solitude, am thine own Self:
I, Nothingness, am thy All.
I, Silence, am thy Amen.

— from A Thomas Merton Reader, by Thomas Merton / Edited by Thomas P. McDonnell

/ Image by Jake Bellucci /

It has been too long since we last shared a poem by Thomas Merton, so how about this one today?

This has always seemed to me to be a perfect poem for deep meditation.

Thomas Merton was, of course, a Catholic monk, but this beautiful poem has a flavor of the Zen Buddhist tradition, which he also studied as part of his desire to bring the sacred wisdom of East and West together.

This poem is being spoken by a living “Solitude,” “Nothingness,” “Silence.” Or, if you prefer, Nirvana. You might generalize further and say the poem is spoken by Stillness, calling to mind the Christian contemplative tradition.

Whether a devout Christian or a determined Zen practitioner, bringing the mind to stillness — “Innocent of questions / And beyond answers” — is one of the most powerful techniques leading toward communion with the fundamental Reality. That Eternal Presence is always here, everywhere, but we miss it because the chattering mind keeps us distracted, disrupting direct perception of that Truth.

When we truly surrender ourselves, when we surrender the egoistic self that drives the mind to that state of constant distraction, the thoughts dissolve and then we find true “Solitude,” a wholeness or completeness that requires no other. And that is one’s “own Self.” We finally recognize our own nature without needing to define ourselves by work or relationships or appearance or age or even our thoughts themselves…

Everything suddenly seems dream-like, but the underlying Reality is recognized as being supremely full or pregnant. That “Nothingness” is the womb that gives birth to the “All.” And so, from that “Silence,” that supreme Stillness, a symphony of form and word and vibration emerges, “Logos and music,” in a universal praise of being — “thy Amen.”

Follow the awareness that survives the quieting of the mind, follow where it leads to “golden-haired suns!”

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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Aug 14 2015

Book Announcement: Marrow of Flame, by Dorothy Walters

The Moment
by Dorothy Walters

And not once,
but many times over,
again and again,
how we disappeared
into that deep well
of darkness, shuddering beneath that load of silence,
clinging to our narrow ledge.

Yet the darkness, sometimes,
unfolded as light.
Our atoms dissolved in it,
each separate molecule opening
into a radiant disk of feeling.

How still we became,
witness and thing seen,
spectacle and observer,
each point admitting an untrammeled flood.

— from Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey, by Dorothy Walters

Book Announcement: Marrow of Flame

I can’t express how pleased and honored I am to announce the availability of the Poetry Chaikhana’s newest publication: Marrow of Flame: Poems of the Spiritual Journey, by Dorothy Walters. The poetry of Dorothy Walters has always been a favorite on the Poetry Chaikhana. Each time I feature one of her poems, I receive many emails and blog comments telling me how much her poems connect and speak to the heart.

Now the Poetry Chaikhana is making her most popular collection of poetry available in a new and revised edition. This is a chance for you to add some truly inspiring and insightful poetry to your collection — and, at the same time, support the Poetry Chaikhana.

This re-issue of Dorothy Walters’s mystical masterpiece Marrow of Flame is a great literary and spiritual event. I don’t know of any other poet currently writing in English who expresses so simply and nobly and with such authority the ordeals, ecstasies and revelations of the path…”
     ~ ANDREW HARVEY, from the Introduction

This beloved collection of poetry by Dorothy Walters explores the spiritual journey through its ecstasies, struggles, and vistas. Each step is observed with the keen insight and clear voice of a modern woman who is both a skilled poet and genuine mystic.

Dorothy Walters’s poems are immediate and inviting, transcendent and often playful. Many of these poems are in dialog, with Rumi and Rilke, Denise Levertov and Lalla, each poem contributing its own wisdom and humor to the ongoing conversation that passes between visionaries and sages through history and across cultures.

Since the publication of the first edition in 2000, Marrow of Flame has already become a modern classic among spiritual seekers.

Now the Poetry Chaikhana offers Marrow of Flame in this updated and revised edition, with a new introduction by Andrew Harvey.

What if there were a modern Rumi or Kabir, Dante Alighieri or John Donne writing of mystical longing, ecstasies and despair? What if she were a woman? What if she were Dorothy Walters weaving her passionate songs into a priceless prayer shawl? Beware: Who holds up this scarf is swept in the arms of the Lover on the path from which no one returns the same.”
     ~ SOPHY BURNHAM, author, The Ecstatic Journey: Walking the Mystical Path in Everyday Life

Excerpt from the Introduction by Andrew Harvey

     Six years ago now I gave classes on Rumi at the California Institute of Integral Studies. After one of them, during my office hours, a gentle and shy woman with short cropped gray hair in her early sixties came in to talk to me. Before she even began to speak, I was startled by the kind clarity of her presence, the unmistakable aura of canny and tried goodness that clothed her. We spoke of many things that afternoon—about Rumi and his extraordinary relationship with Shams, about the nature of mystical ecstasy, about the kind of rigor and capacity for ordeal demanded by the authentic path of transformation; it became clear to me very quickly that I had a great deal to learn from the woman sitting before me, and that she spoke not from curiosity, or even literary or spiritual passion, but from the most profound, intricate and seasoned inner experience. What struck me most that afternoon about Dorothy Walters was her humility; unlike many of my Californian students and friends, she did not claim enlightenment or flaunt her “mystical” insights. Part of her, I felt, was always kneeling in silence before the vastness of the mystery that had clearly claimed her for its own: she spoke of the Divine haltingly, and with a refined and poignant tenderness, like a lover of her Beloved. And she had a wild Irish laugh, too, which reassured me.

     In the years since, we have become the greatest and deepest of friends and I have come to think of Dorothy as a spiritual mother and as one of the few true mystics I have met in my life. Her beauty of soul has illumined my life; her courage has inspired me always to travel deeper into my own vision; I have been able to speak to her, as a fellow seeker and lover of God, with complete candor about the demands of the Path. When I left Meera in circumstances that caused great scandal and controversy, Dorothy wrote me a letter which I shall always cherish and re-read often in which she begged me to “remain true to myself whatever happens and never to give in to any of the terrible pressures my actions and insights will inevitably arouse.” It was the perfect advice, perfectly expressed, at exactly the right time; this kind of precision characterizes Dorothy’s spirit. The only other being who in my experience combined such deep kindness with such wisdom was Iris Murdoch; one of the great sadnesses of my life is that Iris died before they could meet. When I think of them together I think of the commentary the I Ching gives on the sixth line of the hexagram Ting, “the Cauldron.” “The Ting has rings of jade.” “Jade is notable for its combination of hardness with soft luster… here the counsel is described in relation to the sage who imparts it. In imparting it, he will be mild and pure, like precious jade.”

     It was only after the first two years of our friendship that Dorothy began, diffidently and self-deprecatingly, to show me the poems she was writing. I was immediately struck by them; they were exquisitely made, subtle, passionate and profound, unlike anything else I knew that was being written in our time. Whenever we met, Dorothy would bring some fresh works to our meeting. Slowly, as we read them together and discussed them, Dorothy came to reveal more to me of her remarkable inner journey; a journey that has led her through much ordeal and heartbreak and loneliness, from a cramped sometimes difficult childhood, through a long, testing stint as a teacher of literature and women’s studies in a mid-western university, to the festive and fertile spiritual and personal life she enjoys now in her very active “retirement” in San Francisco, surrounded by books and music and friends…

These poems make me gasp. I thought all the great mystics had been gone for centuries… Dorothy Walters–part buddha, part elf–weaves mythic literacy with subversive compassion.”
     ~ MIRABAI STARR, author of Saint Teresa of Avila and God of Love

Marrow of Flame, Poems of the Spiritual Journey, Dorothy Walters, Andrew Harvey Marrow of Flame
Poems of the Spiritual Journey

by Dorothy Walters
Introduction by Andrew Harvey


Amazon and Barnes & Noble Marrow of Flame US Marrow of Flame UK Marrow of Flame CAN 
or ask at your local independent book store

Your purchase supports the Poetry Chaikhana and encourages future publications.

– Thank you! –

Note to Kindle users – The Amazon page’s Kindle link is for the 1st edition, not for the Poetry Chaikhana’s revised 2nd edition. The Poetry Chaikhana will issue a Kindle version for the 2nd edition soon, and probably at a lower price. I am working with Amazon to correct this link. And I will announce when the correct Kindle edition is ready.

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 The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension Unmasking the Rose: A Record of a Kundalini Initiation A Cloth of Fine Gold: Poems of the Inner Journey
More Books >>

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

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Aug 12 2015

Guilhem IX of Poitou – Joyous in love, I make my aim

Published by under Poetry

Joyous in love, I make my aim
by Guilhem IX of Poitou

English version by J. Lindsay

Joyous in love, I make my aim
forever deeper in Joy to be.
The perfect Joy’s the goal for me:
so the most perfect lady I claim.
I’ve caught her eyes. All must exclaim:
the loveliest heard or seen is she.

You know I’d never base my fame
on brags. If ever we’re to see
a flowering Joy, this Joy, burst free,
should bear such fruit no man can name,
lifting among the others a flame
that brightens in obscurity.

/ Image by MYLermontov /

Today let’s take a leisurely journey through romance, love, and the world of Troubadours…

Troubadour poetry, though not widely read in English, has had a profound impact on modern Western art in general, and particularly love songs and love poetry. Modern notions of idealized romantic love can be traced back to a certain extent to the Troubadour love poets in southern France in the 1200s.

The Troubadours lauded love, especially the sweet pain of unattainable love, as embodied by an idealized Lady. They were the poets of courtly love.

Modern commentators often miss the sacred dimension to Troubadour poetry and the path of courtly love. It’s a pity that modern audiences tend to read Troubadour poetry as if it was purely of lovesick romantic poetry — and it is, but not exclusively. Much of Troubadour poetry, though couched in romantic or even sexual imagery, should also be read as sacred poetry, emerging from a genuine mystical tradition.

The Troubadours emerged in Aquitaine and Provence (what is today southern France) at the height of the Albigensian Cathar movement and immediately following their slaughter in the Albigensian Crusade. Many of the Troubadours may have themselves been Cathars or at least influenced by Cathar notions. The Cathars were a gnostic group of Christians who rivaled the Catholic Church in Southern France and other parts of Europe, until they were declared heretical and wiped out, with the few survivors driven underground. The Cathar Elect were celibate vegetarians who upheld notions of non-violence, reverence for the natural world (with special focus on the sun and the moon), and the spiritual equality of women. While some aspects of Cathar spirituality had a world-denying quality that might be unappealing to the New Age notions of today, the Cathars were a vibrant group with a rich mystical and spiritual heritage.

Just as the Cathar connection to Troubadour traditions is often overlooked, the connections to Moorish Spain are often ignored, as well. The startlingly new music and poetry of the Troubadours did not emerge from a vacuum, as is sometimes asserted in European histories. These new artistic and spiritual sentiments can be traced directly to the courts of Andalusian Spain during the period of Muslim rule. Duke William (Guilhem) of Poitou, who is often cited as the “first” Troubadour, was raised in a household populated by Spanish musicians and poets brought back by his father from Muslim Spain. Duke William led a childhood immersed in the innovative music and ideas imported from his Muslim neighbors in nearby Spain. Duke William’s contribution was to popularize this “new” art in Christian northern Europe.

The most notable element of Troubadour poetry was their idea of “courtly love.” Courtly love is often thought of as a strange societal pattern that occurred because marriage among the wealthy was a practical affair brokered between families, leaving little room for love. That may have added to the appeal of courtly love, but it doesn’t really explain it. Let me say this directly: Courtly love was a conscious spiritual practice. The ideal in courtly love was to embody the archetypal forces of Lover and Beloved.

In the songs of the Troubadours, the Beloved was usually the woman. She was to embody the ideal of the Divine Feminine, Sophia, Divine Wisdom. She was to be ever slightly out of reach, but within sight. Her presence was to draw the Lover with her presence, her goodness, her feminine divinity. She was to be a beacon. In striving to embody this for her Lover, she was to merge with the Divine she embodied.

The Lover was usually the man. His was the more active role. He was to seek his Beloved, his idealized Lady. He had to prove himself worthy of her, face great obstacles with humility and perseverance, in her name. In the Lover’s intense passion for his Beloved, his constant focussing on her, he was to ultimately become a perfect Lover of the Divine and unite with the divinity he saw embodied in his Beloved.

The goal of this idealized courtly love was not sexual intimacy. In the spiritualized notion of courtly love, sex was avoided because it would satiate the longing that acted as the spiritual force that drew the man and woman as Lover and Beloved to the goal of spiritual marriage. This was the ideal, and certainly not every couple followed this path, nor did all Troubadours celebrate the inner sacred meaning of the path. Yet this was the core, and it was a pathway taught through societies and particularly passed on through Troubadour poetry and song. Courtly love should be seen as genuine spiritual pathway and not be superficialized. It is not inappropriate to think of courtly love as similar to Tantric sexual spirituality, as developed in India — in some expressions the sexuality can be explicit and socially transgressive, but for others the energies of desire are channeled toward the transcendent.

It is interesting to consider how powerful this mysticism of romantic love can be, especially when we consider that our world is filled with the modern descendent of Troubadour poetry: the pop love song. Buried somewhere deep in those catchy melodies and words of longing, lust, and love is an ancient spark of yearning for spiritual union.

As with Troubadour music and new poetic styles, this notion of courtly love had its origins in the nearby Muslim world. The Beloved of the Troubadours is the same Divine Beloved of the Sufis. When reading Troubadour poetry, as with Sufi poetry, the Beloved — though sometimes pictured as a real person — can be understood to be the Divine Beloved.

Troubadour influence spread through many related poetic/mystical traditions that emerged from their diaspora: the Trouveres in northern France, the Minnensingers in Germany (including Wolfram von Ehrenbach, author of the first Grail romance), the Fideli di Amore in Italy (including Dante).

St. Francis of Assissi himself was a great lover of French Troubadour songs and traditions. Though he lived and taught within the Catholic Church, elements of Cathar and Troubadour and, yes, even Sufi spirituality can be seen in his own radiant ministry: his love of nature (particularly the sun and the moon), his vision of a divine woman, and his relationship with St. Clare (which was very much in the tradition of the chaste Lover-Beloved relationship.)

Guilhem IX of Poitou, Guilhem IX of Poitou poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Guilhem IX of Poitou

France (1071 – 1126) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Troubadour

More poetry by Guilhem IX of Poitou

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Aug 07 2015

New book is almost ready!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that the Poetry Chaikhana’s next publication is coming soon: Marrow of Flame by Dorothy Walters. I am so pleased to say that is complete and at the printer, and it will soon be available for purchase.

This is a truly excellent and inspiring collection, the perfect companion to accompany us on our own spiritual journeys. These are poems that will be remembered, eagerly read by future generations of seekers.

How can I explain this?
Yesterday, pain cleaving a path
over shoulder and arm,
eyes stunned by arrows of light,
back a maze of burning rivers.

Today, Vivaldi, Stabat Mater,
a subtle lifting in the heart,
wrists floating in rapture,
in my mouth the taste of honey and flame.

An earlier edition of Marrow of Flame was published by Hohm Press in 2000, and you can still find copies of the old edition online. But I encourage you to wait a few days and show your support by purchasing the Poetry Chaikhana edition, which includes several revisions — and a new introduction by Andrew Harvey.

The announcement is coming soon!

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Aug 07 2015

Rumi – Whoever finds love

Published by under Poetry

Whoever finds love
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

Whoever finds love
beneath hurt and grief
disappears into emptiness
with a thousand new disguises

— from The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks

/ Image by MoodyBlue /

I first came across this Rumi poem excerpt several years ago on a delightful CD called Secret Language: Rumi, A Celebration in Song, by a Ramananda. Even now when I read these words, I hear them sung in my inner ear, repeated over and over, a hypnotic man’s voice, a soaring woman’s voice–

Whoever finds love…
Whoever finds looove…
Beneath hurt and grief…

Most of us live our entire lives with a thick veil or filter draped across existence — the ego-mind. Everything we perceive or imagine is colored by that filter. When the ego falls away we “disappear” — the normal sense of self as a separate, isolated entity amazingly fades out. The mind grows quiet. Any movement in the mind is perceived as a minor ripple that does not affect the clarity. As a result, the endless projections of identity, form, and enforced relationships between aspects of reality disappear. Instead, there is only a unified Whole, which includes us. We, like that Wholeness, are now understood to be formless, fluid. In this sense, we are spaciousness in an even vaster spaciousness. This is how we “disappear into emptiness.”

So, the disguises… Being formless, we still participate in the realm of form, because that is all the realm of form understands. Rather than a trap or a fixed identity, it becomes a game. You pretend to be someone, so other someones can relate to you. You wear masks that suit the situation, and then change them as the situation changes. Yet none of them is “you,” and you know this. Being formless, you can assume any form. You have “a thousand new disguises.”

But it is the first two lines that pack the real punch of the verse:

Whoever finds love
beneath hurt and grief…

We tend to use hurt and grief, loss and pain, as a barrier. We reflexively tense up in order to numb the pain we feel. That is natural. But the problem is that we all accumulate griefs and become far too adept at anticipating hurts, and so we constantly tense and, therefore, don’t fully participate in the living moment that is our true joy.

Rumi’s words remind us to muster the courage necessary to dive beneath the hurt and the grief, to not fear them. For the aspect of the mind that is entirely concerned with self-preservation and comfort, there is a certain blasphemy to even imagine that something holy and healing and joyful — “love” — can be found hiding just beneath the surface of our pains. But it is just that sort of blasphemy, that sort of sacred disregard for psychic comfort that can lead us to the most startling wide open experience of love.

These lines give us permission to not wait until some future imaginary time when pain and difficulty are past; what we seek may be found right here, patiently waiting for us to dig just a little deeper.

Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Open Secret: Versions of Rumi
More Books >>

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

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

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