Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Jul 26 2013

Haude Gosain – On the other shore

Published by under Poetry

On the other shore
by Haude Gosain

English version by Deben Bhattacharya

On the other shore
Of the ocean
Of one’s own self,
Quivers a drop of fluid–
As the origin of all.
But who can cross the seas
To reach it?

The root of all
Is based in you.
Explore the base
To reach the essence….

— from The Mirror of the Sky: Songs of the Bauls of Bengal, Translated by Deben Bhattacharya


/ Photo by xthumbtakx /

This short song is interesting to me.

First, we have the common Hindu image of the mind engaged with maya — the illusory vision of life, the world, material existence — as a vast ocean. It cannot be crossed, yet it must be crossed.

But why do we care about the other shore and some “drop of fluid,” anyway? That fluid is amrita, the nectar of spiritual awakening. Even that does not explain what this liquid is. It is the oil used to anoint the initiate into realization, yes, but it is more: It is the great seed of being, the source of all things.

Does that all sound rather pointlessly conceptual and metaphysical? We are not discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin here. This “fluid” is real, it is actual, perceived in deep states of communion as a sweet liquid pouring down the back of the throat, warming the belly, opening the heart, clearing the vision, while utterly transforming the consciousness.

But how can we taste this sacred liquor when it is on the other shore of an uncrossable ocean? This is the terrible dilemma of the spiritual aspirant.

And the answer is given in the final verse:

The root of all
Is based in you.
Explore the base
To reach the essence….

Reaching outward, sending the mind out through the world, through the many possible experiences of life, we learn, we grow, we are delighted, we are terrified… but there is never an end. There is always more ocean, always one more encounter or experience awaiting us. The body may eventually grow old and die, but the hunger of the spirit is never fully satisfied in this way. The outer world of experience and material existence is an endless sea, yet it is the unfiltered essence of the Eternal that we truly hunger for, and that is on the far shore.

The secret truth is this: What can never be reached through an outward journey, awaits us within. This is why all the great traditions proclaim, Know yourself. This is not a statement about understanding our own psychological processes, though that is immensely helpful; rather, it nudges us to discover the root of our being, to come to know the reality of whatever this self is that I am. When we do this, an unexpected doorway opens to the other shore.

I say this truth is a secret, but it is not a secret because those who know refuse to speak of it; it is a secret because logic and our common perception of reality make it seem absurd. And it is far too simple. The secret of secrets, the root of all, the blissful drink of realization, appears impossibly distant, yet it is actually found right here, inside, at the very seat of one’s being. Absurd, I know, but it is so.

Remember to forget the churning ocean. Go within. Find the root and follow it to the root of all selves. Drink the drink you discover. The far shore, the near shore, the great ocean, they all blissfully melt into one.

The root of all is rooted in you…






Haude Gosain

India (1795 – ?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Jul 19 2013

Bulleh Shah – Repeating the name of the Beloved

Published by under Poetry

Repeating the name of the Beloved
by Bulleh Shah

English version by J. R. Puri and T. R. Shangari

Repeating the name of the Beloved
I have become the Beloved myself.
Whom shall I call the Beloved now?

— from Bulleh Shah: The Love-Intoxicated Iconoclast (Mystics of the East series), by J. R. Puri / Tilaka Raja Puri


/ Photo by Matthew Staubmuller /

I last featured this poem a couple of years ago, but I felt I should share it again today in honor of all my Muslim friends who are observing the holy month of Ramadan…

Repeating the name of the Beloved
I have become the Beloved myself.

You’ll find variations of this notion in sacred poetry and mystic writings throughout the world. What does it mean? How does repeating the name of the Beloved make you become the Beloved?

Many Sufi traditions practice zikr, the remembrance of the name of God, often through all-night prayer circles that involve devoutly repeating the names and attributes of God. You’ll find similar practices in Hinduism and Buddhism with the recitations of divine names and word formulations through mantra and japa. In Catholicism, there is the repetition of the rosary. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, there is the Jesus Prayer…

The purpose behind all of these practices is a gentle but persistent assault on the mind. By taking the name or words that most remind you of the Divine, and repeating it over and over again, with attention and devotion, a cleansing process starts to occur in the awareness. The mind, at first, likes the sense that it is ‘doing something good,’ focusing on sacred things; but it soon becomes impatient, wanting to return to its old fixations, its comfortable patterns and habitual ways of viewing the world. Continuing the practice of sacred repetition allows the mind no quarter, bringing it back again and again to focus on the Divine. Do this long enough, and the mind starts to see empty spaces in itself — a terrifying experience for the mind, since it normally expends great energy to hide its essentially empty nature behind constant activity and attachment. But continue the practice further still, deeply, and an amazing thing happens: The mind not only sees its emptiness, it sees THROUGH its emptiness to the radiance within. It recognizes that that shining presence was what was being named all along. And, since the mind has finally admitted that it has no solidity or boundary, that it has no essential reality in itself, it recognizes that there is no separation from that living radiance. The identity is finally understood to have always resided There, within the Beloved all along — you have “become the Beloved” yourself!

But, for the devotee, this leaves a dilemma of language: Recognizing the Beloved as one’s true self, the Self of all selves, who then shall you call the Beloved?

This is a verse worth… repeating.






Bulleh Shah, Bulleh Shah poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Bulleh Shah

Punjab (Pakistan/India) (1680 – 1758) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jul 17 2013

Yuan Mei – Nearing Hao-pa

Published by under Poetry

Nearing Hao-pa
by Yuan Mei

English version by J. P. Seaton

(I saw in the mist a little village of a few tiled roofs and joyfully admired it.)

There’s a stream, and there’s bamboo,
there’s mulberry and hemp.
Mist-hid, clouded hamlet,
a mild, tranquil place.
Just a few tilled acres.
Just a few tiled roofs.
How many lives would I
have to live, to get
that simple.

— from A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry, Edited by J. P. Seaton / Edited by Dennis Maloney


/ Photo by flo and me /

Should I say anything about this poem? A quiet village, hidden in the mountains among the mists. A few huts and tilled fields. Not much happening. Time itself pads quietly through this place.

A place nearly beneath notice. Or perhaps it is Nirvana itself.

How many lives would I
have to live, to get
that simple.






Yuan Mei, Yuan Mei poetry, Buddhist poetry Yuan Mei

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

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Jul 12 2013

Ravidas – When I existed

Published by under Poetry

When I existed
by Ravidas

English version by Nirmal Dass

When I existed,
You did not.
Now You exist
and I do not:
as a storm lifts waves
from water –
still they are water
within water.

O Madho,
how can we describe
this illusion?
What we believe does not exist.

A mighty king sleeps
on his throne
and in his dream
becomes a beggar.
Seeing his kingdom vanish
before him
he greatly mourns –
such is our condition.

Like the tale
of the serpent
and the rope –
I know a little
of the secret.
Seeing many bracelets
we think gold has many forms –
but it is always forever gold.

In all things
exists the Lord,
assuming countless shapes;
in each pore he plays and sports.
Ravi Dass say,
He is nearer than my hand.
All that comes to pass
is by His will alone.

— from Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth, Translated by Nirmal Dass


/ Photo by Joi /

This poem has several traditional spiritual metaphors: water and waves, a king dreaming he is a beggar, the serpent and the rope, gold taking many shapes without changing its nature. In the poem, these act as a sort of shorthand, the hearer expected to recognize and smile at the references. All tell us something of the variety and connection, the relationship of the individual beings to Being.

Let’s take a look at these…

When I existed,
You did not.
Now You exist
and I do not:
as a storm lifts waves
from water –
still they are water
within water.

We tend to see existence as a collection of separated beings and objects. Seeing that way, we imagine we too are objects and separated from everything else, including being separate from a big object called “God.”

The metaphor of the water and the wave helps us to see things differently. God, or Reality, is the water, the incomprehensibly vast ocean, and every individual being is a wave in that ocean. The wave rises, becomes distinct, takes on an identity; we can identify it as “a wave” rather than merely an undefined patch on the surface of the ocean. Yet the wave is in no way separate from the ocean. It is not other than the ocean. Though distinct, the wave is still “water within water.”

The wave rises from the ocean, exists in the ocean, and merges back into the ocean, never having been anything but the ocean. The wave is the ocean expressing itself.

What about the reference to a “storm”? Within Indian metaphysics, we might say that the storm is the pull of karma. Its tugging, churning motion pulls individual beings into manifestation from the blissful depths of Unity. But, when the storm has spent itself, and serene stillness is restored, the individual settles back into the great Unity that is the natural state.

A mighty king sleeps
on his throne
and in his dream
becomes a beggar.
Seeing his kingdom vanish
before him
he greatly mourns –
such is our condition.

We are, all of us, royalty, sons and daughters of the Divine. This is not just a pretty fantasy, it is who and what we are. Mundane consciousness is like being caught in a dream, and in that dream we tell stories to ourselves, and the stories are often about spiritual poverty, isolation, desperation. In our dream reality we experience dream suffering.

When the king drifted off to sleep, he was a king. When he wakes up, he is a king. And throughout the entire dream, he is yet a king.

Like the tale
of the serpent
and the rope –
I know a little
of the secret.

A farmer enters a darkened hut. In the corner he sees a poisonous snake, coiled and ready to strike. A wise man raises the shutters to let the light in. Only then does the farmer see that the “snake” is a coiled rope. It is not that it was transformed from a snake to a rope; it was always only a rope. Though he felt fear was entirely justified in the moment, once he saw clearly, the fear transformed into laughter.

Seeing many bracelets
we think gold has many forms –
but it is always forever gold.

We enter a goldsmith’s workshop, and see his work displayed in front of us. We exclaim in delight and overwhelm at the dazzling variety of rings and bracelets. The old goldsmith laughs at our reaction and shakes his head. All that variety is an illusion. To him, every ring and bangle is the same: they are all gold. He can easily drop a bracelet in the crucible, melt it down, and reform it into something new, a necklace perhaps. It looks different and is used in a different way, yet it has not changed; it is still gold.

In all things
exists the Lord,
assuming countless shapes;
in each pore he plays and sports.
Ravi Dass say,
He is nearer than my hand.
All that comes to pass
is by His will alone.

This bewildering kaleidoscopic world we inhabit — look more deeply. Look at how you look. Beneath the surface we are connected, all composed of the same God-stuff. And the variety in the world, sometimes beautiful, sometimes frightening, is simply the craftman displaying his art.






Ravidas, Ravidas poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Ravidas

India (1398? – 1448?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu
Sikh

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5 responses so far

Jul 08 2013

Mechthild of Magdeburg – Then shall I leap into love

Published by under Poetry

Then shall I leap into love
by Mechthild of Magdeburg

English version by Frank J. Tobin

I cannot dance, Lord, unless you lead me.
If you want me to leap with abandon,
You must intone the song.
Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment beyond all human sensations.
There I want to remain, yet want also to circle higher still.

— from Mechthild of Magdeburg: The Flowing Light of the Godhead (Classics of Western Spirituality), by Mechthild of Magdeburg / Translated by Frank J. Tobin


/ Photo by frans16611 /

This brief poem dances with us into deeper and deeper communion. It begins with us in a state of total surrender to the Divine (“I cannot dance, Lord, unless you lead me”). The Divine Beloved sings, and we leap with abandon, we dance upon each rung as we ascend a heavenly ladder:

Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment beyond all human sensations.

I’ll say that these translated lines should be juicier, tastier. I might have rendered it as a journey from from “love” into “wisdom,” from “wisdom” into “rapture” or “bliss.” And what is she trying to suggest when we step from bliss into something that is “beyond all human sensations”? She is talking about something much bigger than the words of this translation evoke. This last rung steps into the open Mystery, in its immense spaciousness and life and immediacy. Doing so, the little sense of self, the embodied self that perceives reality through the senses fades away. Mechthild is not saying something about overcoming sensuality; instead, she is describing how we enter the wide-open field of awareness, unfiltered by the mundane mind and mundane sense of self.

And just when we think there is nowhere else to go, when we “want to remain” in that expansive unity, Mechthild hits us with an explosion of new and incomprehensible aspiration “to circle higher still.”

Our journey with Mechthild carries us from the passive to the fiercely active. Ironically, it is when we yield that we leap and dance and ascend, and it is in our wildest yearning that we are most complete and content and quiet.

Relax, leap into love… and then see where you end up.






Mechthild of Magdeburg, Mechthild of Magdeburg poetry, Christian poetry Mechthild of Magdeburg

Germany (1207 – 1297) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Jul 01 2013

Fakhruddin Iraqi – It speaks to me

Published by under Poetry

It speaks to me in the silence of this one
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

It speaks to me in the silence of this one
then through the words of that one speaking;

it whispers to me through an eyebrow raised
and the message of an eye winking.

And do you know what words it breathes into my ear? It says,

      “I am Love: in heaven and earth I have no place;
      I am the Wondrous Phoenix whose spoor cannot be traced.

      With eyebrow-bow and arrow-winks I hunt
      both worlds — and yet my weapons cannot be found.

      Like the sun I brighten each atom’s cheek;
      I cannot be pinpointed: I am too manifest.

      I speak with every tongue, listen with all ears,
      but marvel at this: My ears and tongue are erased.

      Since in all the world only I exist
      above and below, no likeness of me can be found.”

— from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) , Translated by William Chittick / Translated by Nasr Seyyed Hossein


/ Photo by Gabi Agu /

It has been nearly a year since I last featured a poem by Fakhruddin Iraqi — far too long! I feel a sort of personal sense of discovery, since, for some inexplicable reason, he is not widely known in the West.

You know what I like about this poem? It suggests to me that the facade of daily experiences and physical reality is really a game of hide-and-seek with the Eternal Beloved. Anything, everything, when we really pay attention, reveals a hint of the Beauty playfully hiding beneath the surface.

We seekers think we are “It,” searching for those hidden glimpses, then we realize, no, we are the ones being hunted, we are the ones doing the hiding, and that stunning Smile will eventually claim us. The Beloved whispers to us–

With eyebrow-bow and arrow-winks I hunt
      both worlds — and yet my weapons cannot be found.

Each glimpse brings us closer to capture.

I think one of my favorite statements in the poem is the next couplet:

Like the sun I brighten each atom’s cheek;
      I cannot be pinpointed: I am too manifest.

Why is this game even taking place? Why can we not see the One we seek… or Who seeks us? The reason is that we are not looking in the right way; to catch that full vision requires a profound shift in how we look.

The Beloved, God, is not a thing among things. The Eternal is not an object or being to occupy a specific point in space or time. All objects, all things are a part of that Whole, and it is the fullness of reality that is the Face we seek. Yet every person or thing, no matter how small, does indeed reflect some spark of that divine presence, as each mote of dust floating through a shaft of light reveals something of the sun.

In other words, the Beloved is everywhere present, always, including right here and right now. We inhabit the Eternal, we breathe the Eternal, we endlessly touch the Eternal. The Beloved we seek is so present, so obvious, that we don’t see. We reflexively filter out the interconnected and the hugely obvious in order to function effectively in the mundane world.

You know how to win this game of hide-and-seek? Allow yourself to be caught! And how do you do that? Relax, yield up the internal monologue, give up the stories you tell yourself about the reality immediately in front of you. Stop filtering. Stop imagining even what “God” is. Just fall silent, and see. Finally, the vision becomes a great wholeness, and it wraps itself around you, whispering in your ear, “Gotcha!”

Since in all the world only I exist
      above and below, no likeness of me can be found.






Fakhruddin Iraqi

Iran/Persia/India/Turkey (? – 1289) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jun 28 2013

Jane Hirshfield – Metempsychosis

Published by under Poetry

Metempsychosis
by Jane Hirshfield

Some stories last many centuries,
others only a moment.
All alter over that lifetime like beach-glass,
grow distant and more beautiful with salt.

Yet even today, to look at a tree
and ask the story Who are you? is to be transformed.

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off –
the immeasurable’s continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

I would like to join that stilted transmigration,
to feel my own skin vertical as theirs:
an ant-road, a highway for beetles.

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.
To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further.

— from Given Sugar, Given Salt: Poems, by Jane Hirshfield


/ Photo by amslerPIX /

The title first: Metempsychosis is the transmigration of the psyche or the soul. It can be a synonym for reincarnation, though metempsychosis often implies the notion of re-embodiment in any form, not just another human body. It is the transference of self.

And this poem seems to consider this idea from several different angles.

Stories and trees.

To look at a tree, to really encounter it as a living being, as a living expression of awareness, something profound happens in us: we encounter something of ourselves in that tree.

There is a stage in us where each being, each thing, is a mirror.

The boundary between human and tree falls away, and the sense of self flows between the two. And there is a supreme sweetness in this recognition of shared being with the world around us.

Then the bees of self pour from the hive-door,
ravenous to enter the sweetness of flowering nettles and thistle.

Isn’t this a wonderful image? The bees of self. We tend to think of the self as a single, solid thing, a body of sorts. But here we have the image of the self as cluster that escapes and scatters and spreads out into the world, hungry to experience the offered life all around it, so confident in itself that even barbs and stings hold their own sweetness. In Hirshfield’s metempsychosis, we don’t step from body A to body B; we pour out and taste all the world around us.

Next comes the ringing a stone or violin or empty bucket
gives off –
the immeasurable’s continuous singing,
before it goes back into story and feeling.

When we step out of our own story, when learn to connect, when we learn to become, we find everything has its song. Everything is speaking always. The world rings with being.

In Borneo, there are palm trees that walk on their high roots.
Slowly, with effort, they lift one leg then another.

Walking trees… Some types of jungle trees grow from stilted, raised roots. It is said that, over time, they actually “walk” by growing new roots in one direction, while allowing the old roots to wither.

I would like to join that stilted transmigration…

What is most fascinating to me is the poet’s assertion that she would like her skin to be a highway for ants and beetles.

I would like not minding, whatever travels my heart.

There may still be a self-protective, self-defining sense of self that reflexively hesitates, but yet she yearns to feel the many marching trails of life merging, the great slow pathways of walking trees, and the minute busy paths of ants upon the tree.

And every one of those roads is part of the journeying self.

To follow it all the way into leaf-form, bark-furl, root-touch,
and then keep walking, unimaginably further.






Jane Hirshfield, Jane Hirshfield poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Jane Hirshfield

US (Contemporary)
Secular or Eclectic
Buddhist

More poetry by Jane Hirshfield

8 responses so far

Jun 26 2013

Fukuda Chiyo-ni – loneliness

Published by under Poetry

loneliness
by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

English version by Patricia Donegan & Yoshie Ishibashi

loneliness
lies within the listener–
a cuckoo’s call

— from Chiyo-ni: Woman Hiaku Master, Translated by Patricia Donegan / Translated by Yoshie Ishibashi


/ Photo by nine9nine9 /

This haiku expresses beautifully what I love about the form. it is not overtly “spiritual” or “sacred,” yet it manages to suggest so much to us about awareness, emotion, the relationship of self and other, all through the evocation of just a single sound in nature — the cuckoo’s call.

(Here is an audio recording of the cuckoo’s song.)

The cuckoo’s song, when heard alone, is mournful. It seems to fill the empty forest spaces with an awareness of that emptiness. It is a calling out for connection, but it is only answered by its own echo. Listening, we feel lonely.

But that feeling of loneliness, alternately delicious and heartbreaking, what is it? Is it ‘out there’ somewhere? Is it a vacuum in the world around us? Is it something in the song itself? Were we lonely before we heard the song? Did the song make us lonely, or did it reveal something about ourselves? Is it natural, as the cuckoo’s call is natural? Is it the result of circumstance or a choice? Who or what are we lonely for? A special someone not yet met or long lost? Days gone by? A place in the world? Some part of ourself yet unknown? God? Is loneliness the existential state of existence or is it a passing mood? Is what we call loneliness an aspect of our being that we have yet to accept? Is loneliness truly lonely, or is it filled with life and connection? Is loneliness even a real thing?

With just a few words, this haiku invites us to contemplate all of these questions.

But it is not just Chiyo-ni’s haiku that inspires these questions, it was first the cuckoo’s call. These are questions that come to us from nature’s wild places. Like the poet, we must remember to step out into the fields and listen. In this way, perhaps we will come to know our own nature better.






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

Japan (1703 – 1775) Timeline
Buddhist

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7 responses so far

Jun 21 2013

Rabia al-Basri – O my Lord, the stars glitter

Published by under Poetry

O my Lord, the stars glitter
by Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

English version by Charles Upton

O my Lord,
the stars glitter
and the eyes of men are closed.
Kings have locked their doors
and each lover is alone with his love.

Here, I am alone with you.

— from Doorkeeper of the Heart: Versions of Rabia, Translated by Charles Upton


/ Photo by s0ggywaffls /

I have not read this poem by Rabia in quite a while, but rereading it this morning, I am struck by its simple power. Just a few lines, yet they ring with so much meaning.

Stars and light and missing the vision of it all.

Kings and locked doors. Protecting our things, protecting our worlds, locking ourselves inside.

Lovers together, a world unto themselves.

And that final line to the Divine Beloved–

Here, I am alone with you.

Happy Summer Solstice. And a full moon too!






Rabia al-Basri (Rabia al- Adawiyya)

Iraq (717 – 801) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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5 responses so far

Jun 19 2013

Elizabeth Reninger – Bird Bath

Published by under Poetry

Bird Bath
by Elizabeth Reninger

only this
matters: this ecstatic
baptism

this standing on stick-
thin legs where the singing
creek pools at the lip
of the waterfall

only this
ruby-feathered
chest diving to meet
its reflection

this beak piercing
again and again that quivering
surface, these wings half-
unfolding, a ruffle

of joy guiding rivers
of light a tumble
of droplets dressed
in rainbows along your hidden
spine

shattering all
decorum beneath
blue branches in quiet

assent. . .

— from And Now the Story Lives Inside You, by Elizabeth Reninger


/ Photo by Peter G. Trimming /

Isn’t this a wonderful poem? A distilled moment, a red-breasted bird at a bird bath, its thin legs in the water. It looks down at its own reflection in the surface, plunges, shaking the water through its feathers. Just an instant of life that happens every day, yet through the poet’s eyes it suggests so much to us.

…where the singing
creek pools at the lip
of the waterfall

This isn’t in a manmade bird bath, but in a small river, with living, flowing water. We are at a small precipice, at the edge of a waterfall, and it is there that we find a stillpoint.

Naturally, we are the robin. We look down into the stillness right at the edge, and see a reflection of ourselves. With a bold, joyful movement, we dive to meet ourselves, merge with ourselves, pierce the surface. In the explosion of the moment, we find life in ourselves, cleansing, baptism, communion.

..these wings half-
unfolding, a ruffle

of joy guiding rivers
of light a tumble
of droplets dressed
in rainbows along your hidden
spine

The poet, being a practitioner of Yoga and Qigong, perhaps intends to suggest the ecstatic rush of Kundalini along the spine. Or perhaps simply it is the glistening light and movement of the moment that comes alive in us.

shattering all
decorum beneath
blue branches in quiet

assent. . .

I think I like these final lines best of all. The “decorum” of the world around us itself is “shattered” by this moment of life. But that reality accepts that disruption, it seems to approve and give its blessing, it offers “quiet assent.”

One of those special poems.






Elizabeth Reninger

US (1963 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Taoist

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2 responses so far

Jun 17 2013

Ivan M. Granger – Holy Ground

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Holy Ground
by Ivan M. Granger

Let the vision
of the vastness
you are
leave you
in glorious
ruins.

Pilgrims will come
to imagine
the grand temple
that once stood,
not realizing

            the wreck
            made this empty plain
            holy ground.

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


/ Photo by Mendhak /

I thought I’d share one of my own poems with you today…

So often we imagine our spiritual journey to be one of construction. We want to build a great shining monument within ourselves. It comes as a terrible shock how much the real spiritual work is actually about tearing down our structures.

Watch a wild field at dawn. Sit among the uneven grasses and opening wildflowers. Look at that empty space all around you. It is empty, yes, empty of our own constructions. But it is filled with life. It is an inherently holy space.

The same is true of the quiet depths in the heart. No perfect construction of spirituality is needed. We need to reveal the holy life that is already the foundation of our being. With courage and supreme balance, stand back and do nothing. Staying poised, just look. Notice all those fine structures we’ve erected over a lifetime, proclaiming, “Here I am!” Look closely, look long enough, and we start to see fine cracks appear. When we don’t actively shore them up, the cracks quickly expand. And then, all of a sudden — RUMBLE — the whole facade collapses.

THAT is the moment we’re waiting for! That is when we discover the empty plain beneath our feet. And we are a part of that living space.

The saints and sages of the past, the great artists and visionaries too — we imagine the grandeur of spirit they attained. But the truth is that their greatness was attained in their own collapse, amidst the ruins… and the giddy open spaces they then discovered.






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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15 responses so far

Jun 12 2013

Denise Levertov – Witness

Published by under Poetry

Witness
by Denise Levertov

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

— from Denise Levertov: Selected Poems, by Denise Levertov


/ Photo by B.Riordan /

The miraculous, the eternal, the mountain. Sometimes (briefly) it hides from us. Sometimes (often) we simply don’t look.

It begs the question: that terrible empty ache at the rootstalk of the heart, is it because there is a great gaping hole in the world? Or is it that we have not yet decided to look?

Some fine clear day soon, let us walk up the road, leaving the rest of the day behind. Let us find a good spot, and there sit down. With nothing else to do, let us see the mountain.






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

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

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Jun 10 2013

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – The Thirsty

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Thirsty
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Not only do the thirsty seek water,
The water too thirsts for the thirsty.


/ Photo by sergis blog /

As I grow older, the idea of spiritual thirst becomes ever more real to me. As a young seeker, in my adolescence and early adulthood, I was consumed by such painful blind thirst that I couldn’t have named it “thirst” back then. It was simply the searing ache of my days. It was my whole world.

I went a little mad with my thirst. I kept seeking to withdraw, from society, from the world, retreating into the forests of Oregon, the mountains of Colorado, the jungles of Hawaii where perhaps I might glimpse what was truly essential. I fasted my body into emaciation. I meditated in caves. I walked barefoot and shirtless in the wilds. I spoke with drifters and the homeless, trying to know their hearts and see through their eyes.

Some part of me broke, I think. And then it broke open. That’s when I knew what it meant to drink and no longer thirst.

And a strange thing– what felt like shattering effort driven by wild thirst seemed like nothing at all. Perhaps it wasn’t my terrible thirst that had driven me at all. Perhaps I was drawn by the water’s thirst for me. And all that strain and adventure, well, that was just the story I told myself along the way.

What has been most odd to me is my return to society since then. I made a conscious choice to rejoin the world, to leave my wild places, to hold a regular job, have a stable home, and reconnect with people (and perhaps share a taste of that sweet water). More than a decade later, it still feels strange to me. At times I find myself going through the motions, simply passing as a “normal” person. The challenges of daily life, of paying bills, of caring about my body’s health, of establishing regular patterns others can rely on, these practices still seem foreign to me at times, but I consider them a major part of my spiritual practice now. It used to be that the only things that made sense to me were transcendence and escape. These days I find the most humbling truth in being present, and watching with wonder, allowing life to be simply as it is.

I’m less consumed by my own thirst these days. I feel the water’s thirst for the thirsty world instead.






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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Jun 03 2013

Bibi Hayati – Before there was a hint of civilization

Published by under Poetry

Before there was a hint of civilization
by Bibi Hayati

English version by Aliki Barnstone

Before there was a hint of civilization
I carried a memory of your loose strand of hair,
Oblivious, I carried inside me your pointed tip of hair.

In its invisible realm,
Your face of sun yearned for epiphany,
Until each distinct thing was thrown into sight.

From the first instant time took a breath,
Your love lay in the soul,
A treasure in the secret chest in the heart.

Before the first seed shot up out of the rose bed of the possible,
The soul’s lark took wing high above your meadow,
Flying home to you.

I thank you one hundred times! In the altar
Of Hayati’s eyes, your face shines
Forever present and beautiful.

— from The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Aliki Barnstone


/ Photo by ninjanell902 /

What is it that Bibi Hayati is telling us here?

Before there was a hint of civilization…

From the first instant time took a breath…

Before the first seed shot up…

These all take us back not to the beginning, but to a time before beginnings.

And it is there that she discovers divine awareness, of the soul’s love for the Beloved.

From the first instant time took a breath,
Your love lay in the soul,
A treasure in the secret chest in the heart.

Most seekers secretly fear that their yearning for the Divine is anemic, and so they drive themselves into extreme practices and Herculean efforts of prayer and meditation. Bibi Hayati’s truth cuts through all that: When we dig into the core of awareness, we discover a love too immense to describe. That love is the “memory,” the connection to the Eternal.

And that love-memory is primordial. It is not something that is built through actions and effort. It is not dependent on one’s history. It exists “before there was a hint of civilization.” It is the soul’s very nature.

We don’t have to train ourselves to that divine love, we simply uncover it within ourselves.

This then tells us the real purpose of spiritual practice: Not so much to develop qualities we lack, but to stop obstructing the soul’s true nature, to uncover it and let it take wing.

Ultimately, we don’t find God’s shining face where it was not before, we discover that blissful radiance is always and has always been “forever present and beautiful.”






Bibi Hayati

Iran/Persia (19th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 29 2013

Emily Dickinson – Forever — is composed of Nows

Published by under Poetry

Forever — is composed of Nows
by Emily Dickinson

Forever — is composed of Nows –
‘Tis not a different time –
Except for Infiniteness –
And Latitude of Home –

From this — experienced Here –
Remove the Dates — to These –
Let Months dissolve in further Months –
And Years — exhale in Years –

Without Debate — or Pause –
Or Celebrated Days –
No different Our Years would be
From Anno Domini’s –

— from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Thomas H. Johnson


/ Photo by Aravil1 /

Although Emily Dickinson is rightly praised as one of the great American poets, less commonly is it recognized that she was also a mystic describing states of ecstatic awareness. If her poetry had been composed in India, she would have a place beside Lalla and Mirabai.

Forever — is composed of Nows –

Forever, eternity, and, by extension, heaven… We have a tendency to think of these as something to be reached or attained, something not here, but elsewhere. Something in the future. Thinking this way, forever is never found.

This is such an essential insight: Forever — is composed of Nows. The future is only an idea; when we reach it, it is the present. Time is not composed of past, present, and future. It is composed of now, and now, and now. We have memories of the past and imaginings about the future, but we only ever experience now.

When we understand this deeply enough, we stop teetering back into the past or tilting forward into the future. We finally come to rest in the present moment. And we are shocked to discover how little we have known of now, though it is our only home.

All the months and years of the past, the countless dates stretching into the future, all the experiences they hold, everything, flows into the present, filling it. The present expands to hold the whole world and our own unseparated selves. Each year, each moment of each moment of each year, is a vast blissful space just waiting for us.

This sounds like a nice poetic description, but it is actually something very real, something that is directly felt and witnessed.

We don’t need to look to the future or the past for Anno Domini, the Year of the Lord, we need to look deeply into Now.

I will add that this is a great problem with historical ideas of spiritual events and places — Eden, the coming of Christ or Mahdi or Maitreya, the rebuilding of the Temple, the Final Judgment, etc. Regardless of what the calendar says, they don’t exist in the past or the future, they all exist right now. When we look for them in the past or the future, we ignore the present and fail to find them. The more desperate we become, the more we adopt an ends-justify-the-means approach to force them into being. That hyper-utilitarian philosophy is an overt rejection of the present moment (without ever truly knowing it); and the terrible irony is that it tends to create a hellish present without opening real pathways to that promised paradise.

When we are truly ready to discover our “Forever,” we will stop our cruelties, give up our desperations, we will sit, become quiet, and finally know the space that holds us — right now.

No different Our Years would be
From Anno Domini’s –






Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Emily Dickinson

US (1830 – 1886) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Protestant

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May 24 2013

Farid ud-Din Attar – The Lover

Published by under Poetry

The Lover
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

‘A lover’, said the hoopoe, now their guide,
‘Is one in whom all thoughts of self have died;
Those who renounce the self deserve that name;
Righteous or sinful, they are all the same!
Your heart is thwarted by the self’s control;
Destroy its hold on you and reach your goal.
Give up this hindrance, give up mortal sight,
For only then can you approach the light.
If you are told: “Renounce our Faith,” obey!
The self and Faith must both be tossed away;
Blasphemers call such action blasphemy –
Tell them that love exceeds mere piety.
Love has no time for blasphemy or faith,
Nor lovers for the self, that feeble wraith.

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


/ Photo by Infinite705 /

Here Attar’s spiritual guide, the hoopoe, tells us how to become a true lover of God, that we may successfully journey along the spiritual path.

“A lover,” he tells us, “Is one in whom all thoughts of self have died.” Often statements like this by spiritual teachers are interpreted as meaning that we should think of the well-being of others before our own. That can be a profound approach to life, one that awakens both compassion and lessens the stranglehold of the little self, but there is more to be understood…

The start is to challenge the small self’s hold upon the awareness (“Your heart is thwarted by the self’s control; / Destroy its hold on you and reach your goal.”), but the end is when we see there has never been anything there to struggle against (“Give up this hindrance, give up mortal sight, / For only then can you approach the light.”)

When we can truly say that “all thoughts of self have died,” it is not that we work hard to control the self, it is when the very notion of a self is seen to be illusory (a “feeble wraith”) and not a real or lasting thing at all.

Attar’s hoopoe proclaims something even more shocking: “If you are told: ‘Renounce our Faith,’ obey!” For traditionalist societies, this sounds like blasphemy. How then can Attar throw the accusation back in his critics’ faces by stating, “Blasphemers call such action blasphemy”?

For Attar and most deep mystics, “love exceeds mere piety.” In other words, when, naked, free from self, we truly encounter Love, that is the heart of all religion. Theologies, rituals, and traditions are meant to lead us to that foundational ground, that encounter with Love. Would you give up the destination for the map? Nonsense! Merely following the rules of religion without understanding their purpose only leads to rigidity and a hard heart. People who do so, imagining themselves pious, are the true blasphemers.

Love simply is. And It is everywhere, encompassing all opposites. It is not concerned with the religious dualities of “blasphemy or faith,” “righteous or sinful.” These are human distinctions. When we carefully examine them, we discover that at a certain point in spiritual development these distinctions can reinforce the ego-self. Don’t misunderstand me: They help along the way, by strengthening those essential aspects of the self required for the journey. But they too eventually become traps for the ego, allowing you to assert, “I am righteous and others are not.” It becomes a form of pride, a buttress for the false vision of separation, a way to reinforce the blocks to all-embracing Love.

When we excavate beneath piety and spiritual practice, in the process losing separation and self, that’s when we may just discover the secret wellspring of Love. Returning to those rising waters again and again, we finally know what real worship is. Then we can truly say we have become “a lover.”






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

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

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May 22 2013

D. H. Lawrence – Pax

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Pax
by D. H. Lawrence

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

— from The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, by D. H. Lawrence


/ Photo by Dee.Dee.M /

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

I had a couple of very good friends in childhood, but in many ways my closest companion was a calico cat named, Kitty Kumbah (a singsong name made up by a four-year-old me). She saw me through my parents’ divorce, through a disorienting move from Oregon to Southern California, and along the bumpy road into adolescence. She sat patiently listening to my talking and tantrums. She slept on my bed each night and, one year, gave birth to a litter of kittens on my belly while I was asleep. When I was 16, Kitty Kumbah died in my arms, having carried me safely through my childhood.

feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart

What I remember most was how she taught me meditation, stillness, poise, contentment, and the importance of a well-chosen seat. She taught me pax… peace. That cat was my first spiritual teacher.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace

PS – My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Oklahoma.






D. H. Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry D. H. Lawrence

England (1885 – 1930) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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