Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Mar 14 2014

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

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

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

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

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


/ Photo by trinket /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italy (1193? – 1254) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Mar 10 2014

Basho – The temple bell dies away

Published by under Poetry

The temple bell dies away
by Matsuo Basho

English version by R. H. Blyth

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

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


/ Photo by FideNullo /

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






Matsuo Basho, Matsuo Basho poetry, Buddhist poetry Matsuo Basho

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

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Mar 05 2014

Colin Oliver – Endpoem

Published by under Poetry

Endpoem
by Colin Oliver

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

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

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

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

— from Stepping Into Brilliant Air, by Colin Oliver


/ Photo by DragonStella /

Oh, I really like the images of this poem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being empty and light,
one is God…

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

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

Mm. (That did it. I’m gone again.)






Colin Oliver

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

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6 responses so far

Feb 28 2014

Manikkavacakar – Becoming sky & earth

Published by under Poetry

Becoming sky & earth
by Manikkavacakar

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


/ Photo by Vik Nanda /

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

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

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

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

That statement is particularly interesting to me:

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

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

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

Merging with Shiva himself–

Becoming the Lord

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

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

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

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

Om Namah Shivaya!






Manikkavacakar

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

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Feb 26 2014

Yunus Emre – The drink sent down from Truth

Published by under Poetry

The drink sent down from Truth
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


/ Photo by That-Bassoonist /

A Sufi song of initiation…

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

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

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

We were dry, but we moistened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love these lines!

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

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

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






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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 21 2014

Niffari – Stand at the throne

Published by under Poetry

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

English version by Michael A. Sells

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

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

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

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

If you recall your fault
      you will forget your lord.

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

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


/ Photo by red twolips /

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

Nothing could enter it but the sincere act.

I love that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you recall your fault
      you will forget your lord.

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

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

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






Niffari (Muhammad ibn al-Hasan an-Niffari)

Iraq (? – 965) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 19 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


/ Photo by alierturk /

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

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

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

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

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

Malama pono!






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

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

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Feb 14 2014

Ikkyu – Every day, priests minutely examine the Law

Published by under Poetry

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

English version by Sonya Arutzen

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

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


/ Photo by Inebriantia /

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

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

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






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

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

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Feb 12 2014

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Love is Here

Published by under Poetry

Love is Here
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Andrew Harvey

Love is here; it is the blood in my veins, my skin.
I am destroyed; He has filled me with Passion.
His fire has flooded the nerves of my body.
Who am I? Just my name; the rest is Him.

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


/ Photo by etheraiel /

Love is here; it is the blood in my veins, my skin.

Valentine’s Day is only a few days away, the day celebrated by lovers. Rumi reminds us that there is more than one way to be a lover…

Who am I? Just my name; the rest is Him.

We are, each of us, just a thin gauze-like veil delicately draped over the Divine. The slightest puff of breath or flaming spark of fire dispels the illusion that we are a separate substance…






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

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

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Feb 07 2014

Wallace Stevens – Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Published by under Poetry

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections,
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

— from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens


/ Photo by phoenix wolf-ray /

I once heard a story about Wallace Stevens: His work as an insurance salesman required him to spend a lot of time on the road. As his poetry gained recognition, he was offered academic positions to focus exclusively on his writing, but he refused to leave his job, saying that his poetry drew its rhythm from the steady flow of lines on the road as he drove.

I’d be hard-pressed to clearly define what I like about the poetry of Wallace Stevens, but I keep coming back to it with a smile. This poem, for example, his best known… it’s just one of those perfect poems. Each little verse is practically a haiku. The words don’t even entirely make sense, but they just pull you into the still, present moment.

These blackbirds haunt the frigid quiet and accent the bare landscape with their coal dark presence. Their watchfulness and small movements impinge upon our awareness, suggesting something of the void or an intelligence from some hidden realm reaching into the human world and whispering, “you are not all there is.” An intimation that is both hopeful and haunting — feelings entirely right for a cold winter’s day.

I read this poem on a snowy Colorado day, and the world goes quiet, dusk trickles in through bare branches, my misty breath lights up in the moonlight.

And, what is that? A blackbird? Or some watchful shadow of myself?






Wallace Stevens, Wallace Stevens poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wallace Stevens

US (1879 – 1955) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 05 2014

Ram Tzu – Every time

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Every time
by Ram Tzu (Wayne Liquorman)

Ram Tzu knows this…

Every time
You find an answer,
The question
No longer seems important.

— from No Way: For the Spiritually “Advanced”, by Wayne Liquorman


/ Photo by WiciaQ /

This poetic statement works both ways…

When you find a true answer, it consumes the question until only the answer remains.

But also…

We should be careful of pursuing only answers. Too often that numbs us to the living Mystery which lives more in the openness of questions than in the comfort of pat answers.

So here’s to answers that consume the question, and questions too big for answers!






Ram Tzu (Wayne Liquorman), Ram Tzu (Wayne Liquorman) poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Ram Tzu (Wayne Liquorman)

US (1950 – )
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 03 2014

Rainer Maria Rilke – I live my life in widening circles

Published by under Poetry

I live my life in widening circles
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?


/ Photo by striatic /

A difficult bout of chronic fatigue, but I’m rebounding. Exhaustion, begone! Shakiness, migraines, away with you! Poetry awaits…

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world…

I circle around God, that primordial tower.

These images of circles and circling, revolving around a great center he names God, it makes me think of the cathedral labyrinths of Europe. Or the ancient spiral glyphs carved into rocks and cave faces. I see the circling pathway around some secret center. The road can be bewildering, twisting and turning, keeping us disoriented and uncertain of how near we are, but ever moving inward.

And that courageous line–

I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

We walk the winding path, not out of certainty, but because it is the only path worth walking. Walking that road, quietly, with attention, one foot in front of the other, becomes meditation. It becomes worship. Each ring, whether near or far, is a layer of our lives that is blessed by our passing through it.

Walking the circling path is not only the way to the center, it is actually part of the center. We learn to participate in the center by first walking the path. Obsession with the destination becomes an impediment to reaching it. Instead, by patiently inhabiting each step, we discover the center in ourselves… and our feet naturally end up there, as well.

We walk with our whole selves–

and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

On this roundabout road to God, we encounter the mystery of self. And in that self beyond definition we find the primordial tower standing at the center.






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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Jan 27 2014

Sharafuddin Maneri – If you welcome me, than I am Your accepted one

Published by under Poetry

If You welcome me, then I am Your accepted one
by Sharafuddin Maneri

English version by Paul Jackson

If You welcome me, then I am Your accepted one:
If You do not, I am still Your rejected servant!
I should not be worried whether You accept or reject me:
My task, in either state, is to remain preoccupied with You!

— from In Quest of God: Maneri’s Second Collection of 150 Letters, by Sharafuddin Maneri / Translated by Paul Jackson


/ Photo by rachel_titiriga /

Here in America people are gearing up for the Super Bowl. I’m especially aware of football fever because one of the two teams that made it to the Super Bowl this year is from Colorado, where I live. Everyone is wearing the colors of the Denver Broncos, flying Broncos flags. Even for someone who is not a sports fan, you can feel the sense of regional pride and shared experience while everyone readies for the big game.

Of course, the question on everyone’s lips is, will we win? Who will claim ultimate victory?

Then I read this poem by Shaikh Maneri, and I laugh. This poem is exactly the opposite of all that focus on winning. In this short meditation on the path to God, success and failure are beside the point.

As a seeker, whether or not we will be “accepted” by God and melt into that supreme bliss is not the question that should preoccupy our minds on the path. When we are constantly measuring our spiritual successes and failures, we don’t walk our path well, with the necessary poise and patience.

What is important is not so much how close our relationship with God is or how distant it seems — but recognizing the relationship itself. The satisfaction is found in our very devotion to the Absolute. A mature lover finds fulfillment in loving, without the need for constant reassurances. That is enough for the steady journey. –And, so long as we keep that sacred focus, it gives us victory even in defeat.

This poem reminds me of a Hindu story of a great saint who took the path of rejection all the way to God. As a young man, he hated God. He acutely felt every bit of suffering and wrong in the world, and he blamed God for it all. His hatred of God obsessed him. He constantly muttered his recriminations to God. His every thought and feeling was focused through his anger… on God. And his focus became so keen, that it was enough, and the bliss of enlightenment came upon him.

“Accepted” by God, “rejected” by God… The Eternal neither accepts nor rejects us, for how can we ever be truly separate from that which always and everywhere IS? But in our limited awareness we can create roadblocks and imagine them to be outside ourselves. Success in dispelling those illusions of separation from God is not always easy or obvious. But by remaining preoccupied with our purpose, our entire life force becomes oriented toward it; our energies flow toward our focus, and more and more they flow around whatever distractions and stuckness block the way.

Our job is not to emerge with the victory cup while the crowds roar their approval. Neither is our job to avoid the bitter disappointment of failure. No, our job as spiritual seekers is to overwhelm both success and failure with vibrant, joyful, and constant celebration of the Divine already within us.






Sharafuddin Maneri

India (1263 – 1381) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 22 2014

Lakota (Anonymous) – Three Lakota Songs

Published by under Poetry

Three Lakota Songs
by Lakota (Anonymous)

English version by Frances Densmore & Brian Swann

May the sun rise in splendor
May the earth appear in light

A      wind
wears
me

Look

It is
sacred

A rainbow hoop

wears
me

Everybody
sees me
coming

— from Song of the Sky: Versions of Native American Song-Poems, by Brian Swann


/ Photo by StillWater /

May the sun rise in splendor
May the earth appear in light

Pause from the daily rush for a moment in order to recognize what a truly breathtaking place it is we all inhabit. Each and every day begins with such shining majesty, and you and I are given the great gift of being witness to it. We didn’t have to do something special to earn this privilege other than be born.

It’s easy to confuse priorities in the midst of daily pressures. But we all need to periodically remind ourselves to stop and honor that unearned gift by actually noticing it.

Awe at what we encounter daily can feel exhausting… at first. But the quieter we become, the more we recognize it as our true state of being.

“A wind wears me… A rainbow hoop wears me…” I love these lines. The “me” could be the light of the sun, or it could be us. Heard this way, it is the proper recognition that we are ornamentation for the living world. We are accents upon the beautiful face of creation.

As humans we tend to take ourselves so seriously that we forget that we do not exist for ourselves; we are expressions of the living whole. And that particular sparkle of witnessing awareness we carry, that does not belong to us, but it is there to reflect the countless colors of existence back upon itself so that the living world may know itself more fully.

Look

It is
sacred






Lakota (Anonymous)

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

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Jan 17 2014

Izumi Shikibu – Watching the moon

Published by under Poetry

Watching the moon
by Izumi Shikibu

English version by Jane Hirshfield

Watching the moon
at midnight,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely,
no part left out.

— from Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, Edited by Jane Hirshfield


/ Photo by gavdana /

This particular poem is one of my favorites in its use of the moon, so I thought I’d feature it today in honor of the recent full moon.

Whenever the moon appears in a poem, we can read it as a reference to illuminated awareness — whether intended or not by the poet — and the meaning of the poem unwraps itself in fascinating ways…

The blissful state reveals itself as a shining light, as a luminescence permeating the still field of the mind. There is a sense of light from an undefined ‘above,’ silence, a fullness of vitality, and deep rest.

In sacred poetry, particularly in Zen poetry, this is often expressed as the full moon in the night sky.

The moon is the individual consciousness that shines only by reflecting the constant light of the sun, which is unbounded awareness. Individual consciousness, like the moon, waxes and wanes, sometimes bright and clear, sometimes dark.

When the moon, consciousness, is full, it is round, whole, complete, perfectly reflecting the light of divine awareness. The full moon is enlightenment. It is Buddha-mind. It is the soft light that illumines the land below when all is at rest.

With this understanding, reread Shikibu’s poem. Do you feel the power of the statement beneath its beautiful words?

When she says she is “Watching the moon,” she can be describing the deep meditation practice of witnessing the radiance of opened awareness. To do so “at midnight” carries the double meaning of a late night meditation (which is often the best time for deep contemplation), but midnight also suggests the depth of nighttime, the great Void. We perceive the enlightened mind shining quietly within emptiness. There is nothing else present but the light of the moon. There is only awareness. (I have read alternate translations that say “at dawn” rather than midnight, which carries additional rich meanings.)

The poet specifically describes the moon as “solitary” and “mid-sky.” In this profound communion, the awareness is recognized as being absolutely alone in the sense that there is no ‘other,’ nothing outside of its sphere; it is “solitary.” And it is the center point of being; it is the heart, it is the core; the moon is “mid-sky.”

When we stand silently bathed by the light of the moonlight, we finally experience our true nature. We know ourselves “completely” — all of the seemingly disjointed and conflicting parts of ourselves are seen to be parts of a unified whole, “no part left out.” We are the wholeness.






Izumi Shikibu

Japan (974? – 1034?) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Jan 15 2014

Fukuda Chiyo-ni – whatever I pick up

Published by under Poetry

whatever I pick up
by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

whatever I pick up
is alive —
ebbing tide

— from Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock


/ Photo by JanieGirl80 /

When I read this haiku, it says a lot to me.

whatever I pick up
is alive –

Those first two lines speak of life, discovery, surprise, delight, and the rich variety of the world.

As a young child growing up in Oregon, I loved visits to the coast. Much of the Oregon coast is rocky, cold, moody — perfect for tide pools. I still remember being little more than a toddler and walking among the wet rocks to discover hidden tide pools, little pockets of water filled with the most colorful, strange life forms: anemones, star fish, mussels, tiny fish darting about, and the occasional hermit crab scuttling for cover. Each little tide pool was a wonderland of life!

But the poet’s last line–

ebbing tide

–it hints at death.

She’s right, of course. You have to wait until the ebbing tide to reveal all that magical life. But the ebbing tide itself is a pulling away. It can feel like a personal diminishment or loss, one of nature’s reminders of death.

So perhaps the poem is suggesting to us that it is only when we recognize the reality of death that the richness of life is fully revealed to us. It is a melancholy insight, but death is simply there, to be addressed by each soul. And death is, in some ways, the ultimate teacher that challenges each and every one of us to never take any moment of our lives for granted.

We tend to imagine that death is the loss of awareness and the loss of self, but not so. Whatever we may believe about an afterlife, death itself, when we accept its unavoidable presence, actually serves to awaken awareness and fan the fires of life within us. Death reminds us that life is not measured in quantity of years but in the fulness of our moments. The truth of death gives us permission to pause and notice that whatever we pick up is alive.






Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Fukuda Chiyo-ni poetry, Buddhist poetry Fukuda Chiyo-ni

Japan (1703 – 1775) Timeline
Buddhist

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Jan 13 2014

Akha – Where there is no sense of the world

Published by under Poetry

Where there is no sense of the world
by Akha

English version by Krishnaditya

Where there is no sense of the world,
What can one preach of true and false?
Whose birth, act, form, or name is there?
What boundary, where there is no town?
Akha, where there is no body to begin with,
The indivisible remains, as is.

— from Wings of the Soul: Poems of Akha: The Spiritual Poet of India, Translated by Krishnaditya


/ Photo by Leland Francisco /

A riddle-like poem to tease our minds on this Monday morning…

When the idea of separation falls away, when there is no “this” as opposed to “that,” when there is no “me” separate from “you,” when we are overcome with the grand vision of everything, everything flowing together in a single, living, unified whole — how can we then talk about body and boundary, or get caught up pride and self-righteousness.

When there is no separation, there is also no lack, and therefore nothing to accomplish or change. We can then take our first full breath and settle into reality as it is — indivisible.






Akha

India (1600? – 1650?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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