Jun 07 2019

into the present

It is impossible to settle
into the present
without first cultivating
contentment.

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May 31 2019

Leza Lowitz – Waiting

Published by under Poetry

Waiting
by Leza Lowitz

You keep waiting for something to happen,
the thing that lifts you out of yourself,

catapults you into doing all the things you’ve put off
the great things you’re meant to do in your life,

but somehow never quite get to.
You keep waiting for the planets to shift

the new moon to bring news,
the universe to align, something to give.

Meanwhile, the pile of papers, the laundry, the dishes the job —
it all stacks up while you keep hoping

for some miracle to blast down upon you,
scattering the piles to the winds.

Sometimes you lie in bed, terrified of your life.
Sometimes you laugh at the privilege of waking.

But all the while, life goes on in its messy way.
And then you turn forty. Or fifty. Or sixty…

and some part of you realizes you are not alone
and you find signs of this in the animal kingdom —

when a snake sheds its skin its eyes glaze over,
it slinks under a rock, not wanting to be touched,

and when caterpillar turns to butterfly
if the pupa is brushed, it will die —

and when the bird taps its beak hungrily against the egg
it’s because the thing is too small, too small,

and it needs to break out.
And midlife walks you into that wisdom

that this is what transformation looks like —
the mess of it, the tapping at the walls of your life,

the yearning and writhing and pushing,
until one day, one day

you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn

and the dusk of the body,
glistening, beautiful

just as you are.

— from Poems of Awakening: An International Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Betsy Small


/ Image by geekounet /

It is part of my morning ritual, I shuffle to the sink and wash last night’s dishes by hand. I like the tactile quality of it, the warm soapy water on my hands, slowly watching the order of clean, neatly arranged dishes emerging from the mess. This is spiritual practice at midlife: a fifty year old man, hair sleep mussed, still in his bed clothes, doing the dishes.

I like the poet’s suggestion that the wisdom of midlife is not raging against the chaos and mess of life, but the interaction with it until we ourselves emerge transformed.

We stop expecting the mess to go away or somehow be made right. When I do the dishes in the morning, a whole new stack of dirty dishes have reappear with the next meal. Sometimes I’m convinced that my wife and I couldn’t possibly have created so many dirty dishes in such a short time, that hungry house hobbs have been secretly adding to the stack.

That’s the thing, life is about mess. The act of living and interacting with the world, with other people creates a certain amount of disorder. We don’t want to be utterly free of mess and chaos or even problems. They are the signs of life being lived. We make a mess. We clean up the mess. This is the natural rhythm of life.

until one day, one day

you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn

and the dusk of the body,
glistening, beautiful

just as you are.

I love the way she contrasts the embrace of the dawn while also embracing the “dusk of the body.” Embracing dawn suggests to me that we recognize in ourselves something filled with new life, something vast and glowing. But there is also the increasingly sense of the fading of the body. Even if we remain healthy and strong as we grow older, maturity requires us to recognize that this body is limited and has a looming expiration date. And this is wisdom, the integration of these two truths.

Seeing both, at peace with both, we step into the present moment and come to know ourselves– “glistening, beautiful / just as you are.”

Have a beautiful day! Enjoy the mess. And enjoy cleaning it up again.


Recommended Books: Leza Lowitz

Poems of Awakening: An International Anthology of Spiritual Poetry Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By


Leza Lowitz, Leza Lowitz poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Leza Lowitz

US (1962 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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May 31 2019

treasures

The mediocre and the mundane:
treasures for awareness.

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May 29 2019

Radio Interview – The Val Leventhal Show

Published by under Poetry

Over the Memorial Day weekend I did an extended radio interview on The Val Leventhal Show, which airs in Chicago. We had a fascinating conversation about how poetry, music, and the visual arts become expressions of spirituality and social activism.

If you’re interested in listening, you can find a recording of the full show online through SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-389699281

Val Leventhal begins her show with her own commentary — or as she calls it, her “righteous rant” about The Golden Rule found in all the world’s great religions and philosophical traditions — followed by a few songs and a discussion of some news stories.

She introduces me at about 26:00 minutes into the show.

I hope you enjoy it…

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May 29 2019

Mahmud Shabistari – One Light

Published by under Poetry

One Light
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Andrew Harvey

What are “I” and “You”?
Just lattices
In the niches of a lamp
Through which the One Light radiates.

“I” and “You” are the veil
Between heaven and earth;
Lift this veil and you will see
How all sects and religions are one.

Lift this veil and you will ask —
When “I” and “You” do not exist
What is mosque?
What is synagogue?
What is fire temple?

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


/ Image by Pieroc /

With the recent ratcheting up of tensions between the US and Iran, I thought it would be worthwhile to be reminded of the cultural and spiritual richness has come to us from Iran/Persia. Mahmud Shabistari is one of my favorite poets from the golden age of Persian Sufism…

“I” and “You” — What is Shabistari talking about here? “I” and “You” is the normal perception of existence. Here “I” stand, and “You” are a separate entity over there. It is the perception of duality in which we see the entire universe as a fragmented space of disconnected beings and objects. On the one hand, that perception allows us to feel supremely important in contrast to all else, but it also isolates us and imprisons us in a physicalized notion of reality. Even when we touch, we never quite make contact. The heart ever yearns for real unity.

To show us the way out of this perceptual trap, Shabistari has given us an image to contemplate: a lamp surrounded by latticework. The lamp shines with a single light, but the lattices divide up the radiance into several individual shafts of light. He tells us the world of separation between “I” and “You” is like that — one light divided into many rays.

Think about this image for a moment. So long as we look outward, we only see separated beams of light reaching through the air and patterning the wall. But the moment it occurs to us to look at the lamp itself, we turn around and discover the single light that is its source within. Finally seeing that one light, we then know that there has only ever been that one light. Does the lattice somehow create many lights of the one light? No. It is still the one light, but expressing itself through the many beams. To prove this to ourselves, all we need do is remove the latticework, and then the light shines everywhere, undivided. And the whole time the light itself has never changed its action or nature.

Shabistari makes an interesting shift in the second part of this verse. The separation of “I” and “You” expands to encompass the realm of the world’s religious divisions. And the metaphor of the lamp’s lattice has become a veil (which, of course, covers the face of the Beloved). Even the many sects and religions are one—when we finally look inward toward the light that shines at the heart of each tradition. To one who has lifted the veil and witnessed the underlying Beauty, the distinctions of each tradition and theology no longer separate them. Instead, we can say that the best of each religious tradition adorns the Face differently—but it is the same Face.

Lift this veil…
…and separation is lost, the soul’s isolation ends. And every place becomes a place of worship.


Recommended Books: Mahmud Shabistari

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari Beyond Faith and Infidelity: The Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari


Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 29 2019

all effort will cease

One day all effort will cease
and the Earth shall recognize
its inherent heavenly nature.

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May 17 2019

Wendell Berry – The Peace of Wild Things

Published by under Poetry

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— from Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by DeingeL /

Rereading my comments from a few years ago, I smile at the memory. A special moment, a special day…

My wife and I have been going for walks recently in an area called Roger’s Grove. The park has a small lake with a couple of islands at its center. It is a favorite spot for Canadian geese this time of year. As we stroll around the lake we sometimes see a gray heron standing in meditative stillness among the reeds along the banks. Most recently we noticed some new visitors: one and then two bright white pelicans, looking a bit awkward in form but moving with the grace of swans upon the lake’s surface.

Yesterday, we had an unexpected sight: Those two pelicans had become thirty pelicans! The lake was filled with the bright white beings! We walked around the lake in an awed daze. We watched as the birds paddled around the lake in groups, tacking together in their movements, like a synchronized drifting dance, all gliding to the left and then, with some unseen signal, all turning right again. They even dipped their heads beneath the water all at once, sometimes several times in a row, down and up and down and up, a quiet undulation rippling through the group. They seemed to revel in this sleepy synchronicity of movement beneath the warming sun.

It was a magical moment. A healing moment. An encounter with the peace of wild things.

That’s just it– these, like all living beings, experience struggle, trauma, death, yet they continue to reside in the present moment and celebrate the bliss of a sweet afternoon when it is upon them. And in this way wild things are teachers to us all.

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Given: Poems Selected Poems of Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>


Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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May 17 2019

opportunity

Everything is an opportunity
for awareness.

No responses yet

May 10 2019

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – There is some kiss we want

Published by under Poetry

There is some kiss we want
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of Spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild Darling!

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face against mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language-door,
and open the love-window.

The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.


/ Image by Unionhoney /

Isn’t this a wonderful selection?

I haven’t identified the original verses, so I don’t know how closely Barks’s version reflects the original lines. Barks tends to do rather loose renditions of Rumi, but with a sense of the poem’s heart and passionate abandon.

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives…

Whatever we spend our lives doing, whatever we desperately seek or crave through the decades, underlying it all, that’s what we really want– that secret kiss, that feeling of being touched by Spirit. Not is some intellectual or philosophical sense, but in our embodied lives, not as a feeling or a thought or a belief, but as a sort of recognition. A self-recognition. We want to know in the deepest sense. Everything else we seek on a more surface level is either in pursuit of that, or sometimes in denial of that, but always an outgrowth of it, that kiss we want with our whole lives.

Close the language-door,
and open the love-window.

Try as we might, we can’t think our way into heaven. No matter how skillfully we conceptualize and elaborate even the most elevated ideas, that isn’t the way in.

The open heart is the way. It is the open window. Best for the verbalizing mind to fall silent or, when it is active, to work in service to the awakening heart.

Because, after all…

The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.

PS- Website Adventures

I have been a bit distracted this week trying to sort out multiple technical problems with the Poetry Chaikhana’s website and Internet service provider. Hopefully, this is nothing you have bumped into trying to visit the site. We should have everything resolved soon. It’s all behind the scenes stuff that you don’t need to be especially concerned with, but since it has been a major focus for my week, I thought I would mention it.

At some point I should probably do a major redesign of the Poetry Chaikhana site. I have had the site up for 15 years now. Quite an accomplishment on the peripatetic web! While the content has expanded and changed, much of the basic design and structure is the same as when I started. Since I run the Poetry Chaikhana in my spare time, and balanced with chronic fatigue issues, I have only done basic maintenance since that initial creation. It might be getting time to bring the site into the modern era of web design before long. It’s a matter of being able to organize my schedule and finances to dedicate the time necessary.

Maybe I should ask you, the Poetry Chaikhana community: Would you appreciate an updated Poetry Chaikhana site? Not only the look and feel, which feels a bit static by modern sensibilities, but with a more dynamic and searchable structure. While I don’t know exactly when I will get to changes, I do welcome your feedback.


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 This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom
More Books >>


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

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

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May 10 2019

The destination’s gift

The destination’s gift
is contained in the journey itself.

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May 08 2019

Omar Khayyam – AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night

Published by under Poetry

[1] AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
by Omar Khayyam

English version by Edward FitzGerald

AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
      And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

— from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald


/ Image by John Spooner /

I thought I would select the opening quatrain from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam today in honor of the month of Ramadan for all of my Muslim brothers and sisters.

Reading this, we immediately notice the delightful sense of rhyme and meter in FitzGerald’s translation. It invites us to say it out loud. We almost want to sing it.

But beyond the sheer poetic pleasure, is there anything of significance being said here? The poet is saying something about night and light and telling us to wake up, but we have to puzzle it out a bit before a clear image forms in our minds.

He describes the Bowl of Night, the night sky. Morning has flung a Stone into the Bowl of Night. If we imagine a large dark clay bowl, and a stone has been thrown into it, that stone will break through, creating a hole, allowing a sharp point of light to appear. He is describing the burst of light that is the suddenly rising sun.

The light of the sunrise puts the Stars to Flight by outshining the stars. In the sunrise, the night stars recede and all we see is the sun.

The next two lines might seem especially obscure. Who or what is the Hunter of the East? This is a way of referring to the constellation Orion, with his distinctive belt of three stars. Late in the year in the Northern Hemisphere, Orion ascends above the horizon in the east just before dawn.

Orion is traditionally seen as a hunter. But he is also associated with the east and the rising sun. It is as if the rising sun in the east is hunting, but hunting what?

He has caught the Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light. The Sultan’s Turret might be understood to be a minaret, the tower that calls the faithful to prayer. Or the turret might suggest the head or the crown, the rim of the earth itself encircled with a ring of light in that first flash of dawn.

As we unlock the language, it becomes a vibrant scene of waking up to the dawn.

But there is more going on here. Have you noticed how this imagery also resolves itself into the Muslim imagery of the Star and Crescent? Orion’s Noose of Light encircles the darkened world. The stone has created a single point of light in the night sky in the east.

This is not simply an image of religious or national pride, it has profound meaning for the individual. The Star and the Crescent are themselves representations of enlightenment. We have the bowl of night, the skull, encircled by light. But that circle, as a crescent, is incomplete on one side to allow the star to rise in the east — enlightenment. This small break in the circle of the individual identity, allows the spiritual light to flood in. This has been deeply understood and commented on by Muslim mystics over the centuries.

When we see the Star and Crescent, we should be thinking not of flags or nations, but the wali’s enlightenment. Whenever we witness the rising sun, it too paints for us a picture of enlightenment.

Of course we start off with that command of the spirit: Awake! Enlightenment is ready to dawn in the soul, do not miss it! Awake! Awake!


Recommended Books: Omar Khayyam

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained The Sufism of the Rubaiyat or the Secret of the Great Paradox Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyan: A Spiritual Interpretation The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Illustrated Edition)
More Books >>


Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Omar Khayyam

Iran/Persia (11th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 08 2019

simple contentment

Simple contentment
unlocks so many doors
along the way.

No responses yet

May 03 2019

Theodore Roethke – The Right Thing

Published by under Poetry

The Right Thing
by Theodore Roethke

Let others probe the mystery if they can.
Time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will
The right thing happens to the happy man.

The bird flies out, the bird flies back again:
The hill becomes the valley, and is still;
Let others delve that mystery if they can.

God bless the roots! — Body and soul are one!
The small become the great, the great the small;
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Child of the dark, he can out leap the sun,
His being single, and that being all;
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Or he sits still, a solid figure when
The self-destructive shake the common wall;
Takes to himself what mystery he can.

And, praising change as the slow night comes on,
Wills what he would, surrendering his will
Till mystery is no more: No more he can.
The right thing happens to the happy man.

— from Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty, Edited by Alan Jacobs


/ Image by okokay /

I have been thinking about this issue lately– What is the right balance between actively reaching out for meaning and the experiences of life, compared with resting content and trusting that it will all naturally flow to us?

The right thing happens to the happy man.

As a younger man, I was impatient and headstrong, full of will and a determination to seize hold of a unique life path. That worked wonders in some cases, and it also created a lot of chaos and extremes. At some point I decided I didn’t know what the hell I was doing other than that I was trying to escape wherever I was at the moment, so I finally gave up. That too worked wonders. When we stop trying to assert blind control, life opens up in unimagined ways.

But that too can become a shield, a sort of disengaged contentment.

Does one push or relax? Do we run toward or away or simply stand still?

Child of the dark, he can out leap the sun,
His being single, and that being all;
The right thing happens to the happy man.


Or he sits still, a solid figure when
The self-destructive shake the common wall;
Takes to himself what mystery he can.

Do we make change happen or recognize that change is already occurring and let it play out?

And, praising change as the slow night comes on,
Wills what he would, surrendering his will
Till mystery is no more: No more he can.

The answer, I suspect, is neither to take control and become the “master of one’s fate” nor to be a passive spectator. It is not about will at all or non-will. It is about openness.

When we lower our shields and step out naked into life, life as it is, we see and feel and move in ways that were previously unimaginable. We no longer act out of compulsion, and neither do we stand back out of fear. We are free to choose appropriately, remaining relaxed, feeling the currents of life flowing through our movement and our stillness. And we feel a certain delight along the way.

The right thing happens to the happy man.

…or woman.

A note about the poem: Try reading this poem aloud. You may not notice the striking rhyme pattern if you read it silently in your mind. Not only do the first and third line within each triplet suggest a rhyme, but also the first line of each rhyme together, as do the second and the third.


Recommended Books: Theodore Roethke

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems On Poetry and Craft The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke
More Books >>


Theodore Roethke, Theodore Roethke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Theodore Roethke

US (1908 – 1963) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Theodore Roethke

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May 03 2019

the rules

No one gets to heaven
by following the rules
— or breaking them.
Heaven must burst forth from your breast.

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Apr 26 2019

Muso Soseki – Temple of Eternal Light

Published by under Poetry

Temple of Eternal Light
by Muso Soseki

English version by W. S. Merwin

The mountain range
      the stones in the water
            all are strange and rare
The beautiful landscape
      as we know
            belongs to those who are like it
The upper worlds
      the lower worlds
            originally are one thing
There is not a bit of dust
      there is only this still and full
            perfect enlightenment

— from Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by Soiku Shigematsu


/ Image by sagefille20 /

It has been a couple of years since I last featured something by Muso Soseki.

The mountain range
      the stones in the water
            all are strange and rare

Considering Soseki’s role as father of Zen gardening practice, whenever he says anything about the natural world, we should pause and pay special attention.

When he describes the mountain range and river stones as “strange and rare,” he is not shrugging his shoulders at something unusual or interesting. He sees something unique, utterly specific, a now-ness only truly recognized when we ourselves are present and genuinely seeing.

The beautiful landscape
      as we know
            belongs to those who are like it

We only ever perceive what we already are. We may all look and see the same lines and colors of a mountain range, but to actually see it and, on a deep level, recognize what it is, something within ourselves must recognize a shared being with the mountain range.

True seeing is about relationship. It is about inter-being.

This is how we lead into his next statement:

The upper worlds
      the lower worlds
            originally are one thing

When we settle into the original state, we perceive as part of an inherent oneness. We may still see a mountain range or individual stones in a river, but they are not truly separate from us or from each other. There really are not separate objects in the world, there is, in truth, just one thing with a variety of surfaces and vantage points.

From this perspective, there are no objects, nothing that can be separated out as its own self-existing thing, not even something as small as a mote of dust–

There is not a bit of dust
      there is only this still and full
            perfect enlightenment

–just this beautiful moment of living awareness we all are.

Have a beautiful day!

PS- I was devastated to hear about the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. Always more reason to cultivate awareness, understanding, and healing within our hearts and within our societies.


Recommended Books: Muso Soseki

Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons East Window: Poems from Asia Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader


Muso Soseki, Muso Soseki poetry, Buddhist poetry Muso Soseki

Japan (1275 – 1351) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Apr 26 2019

Gratitude

Gratitude opens us daily.

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Apr 19 2019

Li-Young Lee – One Heart

Published by under Poetry

One Heart
by Li-Young Lee

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings


was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

— from Book of My Nights, by Li-Young Lee


/ Image by hashmil /

It is both Passover and Easter this weekend, a time to celebrate liberation, the renewal of life and hope and possibility.

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born


out of nothing.

To take flight, birds launch themselves into apparent emptiness. Of course, successful flight requires an awareness that the sky is not truly empty, but a realm of subtle substance that can support us.

One must cultivate an inner emptiness and lightness in order to let go of the comforting certainty of the earth, to confidently leave it behind and meet that intangible space of open sky, and there dance among its secret currents.

The first sky
is inside you, open


at either end of day.

This, I think, is an important reason why practices such as fasting and other expressions of moderate asceticism are encouraged on occasion by most spiritual traditions. Forget the tormented dogmas of self-denial that tend to lead to hatred of the body — which should automatically be seen as a spiritual dead end. The real purpose of these sorts of practices is not disdain for the body but, rather, to awaken in our awareness that sense of openness, spaciousness, and inner quiet… while allowing the body to rest and regenerate and become more finely attuned to our higher purposes in life.

If we don’t cultivate awareness of the inner sky, the “first sky,” we fail to recognize that taking flight in the world around us is our natural expression. Instead, we fear that we will fall.

The work of wings


was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Perhaps we can think of flight as intentionally falling without ever hitting the ground. We leap into space, letting that inner emptiness lift us up. And perhaps what we thought was fear was in reality the exhilaration of the heart encountering the openness of the living moment while we soar upon nothing.

(This is a poem I have featured more than once, but each time I come across it again, it carries new life, and I think, Oh, I have to share this with the Poetry Chaikhana once more!)

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Li-Young Lee

Book of My Nights Rose The City in Which I Love You Behind My Eyes: Poems


Li-Young Lee, Li-Young Lee poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Li-Young Lee

US (1957 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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