Jul 24 2015

Farid ud-Din Attar – A dervish in ecstasy

Published by under Poetry

A dervish in ecstasy
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

A frenzied dervish, mad with love for God,
Sought out bare hills where none had ever trod.
Wild leopards kept this madman company —
His heart was plunged in restless ecstasy;
He lived within this state for twenty days,
Dancing and singing in exultant praise:
“There’s no division; we two are alone —
The world of happiness and grief has flown.”
Die to yourself — no longer stay apart,
But give to Him who asks for it your heart;
The man whose happiness derives from Him
Escapes existence, and the world grows dim;
Rejoice for ever in the Friend, rejoice
Till you are nothing, but a praising voice.

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


/ Image by vakatanka /

A frenzied dervish, mad with love for God…

I think we, like the wild leopards, should keep this madman company for a while…

…Sought out bare hills where none had ever trod.

This idea of retreating into the desert or the forest always had a romantic appeal to me, especially in my 20s and 30s. That instinct for renunciation and retreat has an interesting tension. In its best form, it is about seeking the essence of things, learning to recognize the essential self. There is the intense desire — or need, really — to clear the mind and settle the heart.

To accomplish this, like the dervish in this poem, we often want to withdraw, retreat from the world. But what is “the world”? We can loosely say that “the world” is society, but that’s not it exactly. Really, “the world” we are trying to withdraw from is more an idea of reality. We are attempting to separate from the consensus trance.

This is an important point that we too often forget in our daily lives: Even in our most pragmatic, mundane activity, we are in trance. We don’t enter trance in those rarified moments, like the dervish in his ecstasy; we are always in trance. And we are always seeking trance. We humans are trance-seeking creatures. Virtually every choice we make is about cultivating trance. We watch TV and surf the Internet because of the trance it induces. We eat food as much for how it makes us feel as for nourishment. Falling in love is trance. Family conversation is trance. A good day at work is one form of trance, and a bad day is another form of trance. Every action of every day is an attempt to fine tune our mental and emotional states because of how they affect our perception of reality. We are endlessly forming and reforming trance.

But the frustrating thing is that we learn early on that there is a very limited range of trance that is acceptable or even achievable. We quickly come to believe that this fixed range is the full spectrum of reality. We all subscribe to this in order to be acceptable and considered “normal” within society. And, for the child moving into adolescence, taking on that consensus trance is hugely important, allowing us to stabilize psychologically and form healthy relationships with others. It is also a serious problem, since it has nothing to do with actual limitations of reality or our true nature.

It is this shared trance that we call “the world,” which seekers instinctively feel the need to withdraw from in order to begin to see clearly, free from the psychic pressures of society to remain within a certain limited bandwidth of awareness. When done with balance, steadiness… and reverence, such withdrawal from the world can lead to surprising clarity, opening, and bliss.

But here is the potential problem with all of this: Retreat also necessarily implies separation. We are separating from the world. We are separating from what we imagine to be foolish and lost humanity. In the struggle to free oneself from the gravitational pull of societal reality, it is easy to become rigid, aloof, even hard-hearted. We have divided reality between what is holy or sacred or “true” from the secular, mundane, and “illusory.” Such a division, any division, within our view of reality can never hold up for long. It can become a recipe for spiritual disaster.

Here is how I understand the solution to this dilemma: That sense of separating oneself, retreating in order to discover an awareness that is pure or more essential — whether through literal retreat, or on a purely internal level — can be immensely helpful at certain points along the spiritual journey. But we must always remember that it is a phase of the journey and not the end goal. In other words, we may choose to step out into the desert, but we remain connected to the world through compassion and commitment. We will eventually return to “the world,” hopefully with a transformed awareness and very little of the little self left. When we have the vision of the full Reality, we come to recognize that the small section we call “the world” is no longer the world, yet that shadowy thought-reality still has its place within the Whole — and that is the place that most awaits the gifts we return with.

Rejoice for ever in the Friend, rejoice
Till you are nothing, but a praising voice.


Recommended Books: Farid ud-Din Attar

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Conference of the Birds
More Books >>


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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3 responses so far

Jul 24 2015

spend time

Spend time
with the Beloved.

No responses yet

Jul 22 2015

Yoka Genkaku – Right here it is eternally full and serene

Published by under Poetry

[39] Right here it is eternally full and serene (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

Right here it is eternally full and serene,
If you search elsewhere, you cannot see it.
You cannot grasp it, you cannot reject it;
In the midst of not gaining,
In that condition you gain it.


/ Image by leonard-ART /

Sorry about the poetic absence last week. I’m back…

Right here it is eternally full and serene,
If you search elsewhere, you cannot see it.

This is so simple, yet so difficult to accept. What is it we are seeking? Enlightenment? Salvation? Heaven? God? If something is missing, then it must be somewhere else. So we seek out new groups, new teachers, new books, new religions, new lands. Even in our meditation and prayer, we are reaching, reaching out– for what?

It is almost an insult to our efforts to be told again and again that it is “right here.” If it was right here, we would feel it, we would know it. Right?

This makes no sense at all to the seeking mind, yet we each can discover that it is absolutely true: What we seek is right here. Not elsewhere. Not in the future. Right here.

Which begs the question, if it is always at hand, why can’t we grasp it? First, it is so difficult for the mind to accept that this thing we seek is not a thing at all. It cannot be grasped or held or claimed. It is not an object outside of ourselves. It is not a thing contained within space, contained within time, contained within concepts. It is not a thing that starts and ends, nor is it here but not there; rather, it is an effulgence of awareness. Even that might suggest to us that it is something within the mind to be coaxed forth, imagining it to be an ephemeral object of the mind, a subset of the self. Such a thing cannot last or transform.

It would be easy to dismiss all of this as elaborate philosophical wordplay were it not for the fact that we are told again and again that solving this riddle unlocks a whole new self and a whole new reality, a reality that is much larger, clearer, blissful, unified, and somehow more true. If we accept even the possibility that enlightenment/heaven/God are not only knowable, but the actual state of reality that clears away the normal state of illusion, then to dismiss such spiritual wordplay is foolish in the extreme.

Since sage voices keep telling us that what we seek (but don’t fully understand) is right here and not elsewhere, let us try an experiment: Let us stop imagining another place, another experience. Let us strop trying to imagine what it is we seek at all. If we ache, let us feel it intensely without imagining what will soothe it. Let us, instead, grow quiet, grow still, and let go of all the mind’s imaginings. And then let us just see. What do we notice? Not trying to grasp or gain or escape, what do we sense right here? What has been so consistently present that we have always felt but never noticed?

In the midst of not gaining,
In that condition you gain it.

The touch we feel might just surprise us — right here.


Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

Buddhism and Zen


Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

China (665 – 713) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan
Taoist

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2 responses so far

Jul 22 2015

interconnected

We are interconnected.
Our experiences
are always shared experiences.

No responses yet

Jul 10 2015

William Wordsworth – The Soul that rises with us

Published by under Poetry

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star (from Ode. Intimations of Immortality)
by William Wordsworth

The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
      Hath had elsewhere its setting,
            And cometh from afar:
      Not in entire forgetfulness,
      And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
      From God, who is our home.

— from Complete Poetical Works, by William Wordsworth


/ Image by ewen and donabel /

This is one of the few poetic utterances that makes me instantly respond with the word — gorgeous! Other poems may be uplifting or inspire deep thought or simply offer up a delightful confection of words and images. But these few lines by Wordsworth are all of these things, yet it all somehow comes together in a way that causes one to take a deep breath and expand.

Sometimes I read these words and think the image and language are almost overripe, but, no, not quite. It holds. And then I am carried away by it again.

Its first few lines distill the soul’s feelings of loneliness and vulnerability, that feeling that something important in one’s very being has been hidden from memory, and gently negates it–

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness

Then we get their answer in those final lush lines–

But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.

And we again know our home. We find ourselves at rest, our full memory of self restored, while clouds of glory trail from our shoulders. Gorgeous.


Recommended Books: William Wordsworth

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Oxford Book of Mystical Verse Complete Poetical Works William Wordsworth: Selected Poems
More Books >>


William Wordsworth, William Wordsworth poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Wordsworth

England (1770 – 1850) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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3 responses so far

Jul 10 2015

individual beings

We aren’t so much individual beings
as individual points of perception
within one immense being.

No responses yet

Jul 08 2015

Antonio Machado – Hope says

Published by under Poetry

Hope says
by Antonio Machado

English version by Ivan M. Granger

      Hope says: One day
you will see her, if you wait well.
Says despair:
She is only your bitterness.
Beat, my heart… Not all
has been swallowed by the earth.


/ Image by RezzanATAKOL /

This heartbreaking poem wrestles with that great empty space left by death. The “her” referred to here is Machado’s wife, who died very young. Her death is an anguished absence in many of his poems.

But this poem’s few lines have a quiet courage as well. The tension between hope and despair seems equal and impossible to resolve, but his soul makes a stand and gives that final nudge in favor of hope and the world of the living.

I selected this poem today to touch on some of the ways that death is a teacher, perhaps our most powerful teacher. Our own death. The death of loved ones. The small daily deaths of loss and change and uncertainty. The terrifying certainty that death eventually comes for everyone and everything.

Usually, we try not to think about death at all, or at least not with depth and an unshaken gaze. When forced to think about it directly, we tend to view death as an evil thing, a devilish force, something that breaks the way reality should work. But the simple truth that death touches every corner of the material world tells us that it is essential to reality on a certain level. Death is a universal presence, and therefore a bearer of universal truth.

Death is an essential teacher, and we each must, in our own way, overcome that reflexive fear and learn to learn from it.

It is such an immense, emotion-fraught, and shadowy subject, and I won’t suggest simple, comfortable answers. Here are just a few my own thoughts and observations…

Death teaches us to let go. So much of life is spent in acquiring, gathering, and holding, but that becomes a lopsided equation. Life must include letting go, to find balance. And, I have found that, when I truly accept this, the internal act of letting go can also be a great unburdening. Letting go, in great and in small ways, can be a tremendous release, like exhaling after holding one’s breath.

And, when we think about it, much of spiritual practice does exactly the same thing: teaching us to let go, to exhale, to witness the unhindered flow of life.

We can say this is about non-attachment, but I would carry this further to say this is about non-identification. By that I mean that what truly frightens us to release are the things we identify with. The things and relationships that define our own sense of self are the hardest to lose. Their loss gives us a glimpse of our own death; some part of our self definition has been broken open.

That is a big part of it, I think — death, along with its gentler, daily form, loss, help us to see the many ways we have defined ourselves, the ways we have externalized ourselves, the ways we have tried to formulate an unchanging and limited idea of self. When pieces of that elaborate self-construction are removed or moved around, we are often traumatized, eliciting a very real encounter with death, even if physical mortality is not an immediate concern. But, we also have the opportunity to recognize that we are still essentially here. Some essential part of ourselves remains completely itself, regardless of what change or loss is experienced or how our sense of who we are has changed.

We might say that death removes the non-essential to help us discover what is essential and unchanging.

Or we can say something nearly the opposite: that death takes what is absolutely essential to us in order to awaken such a pure ache that we seek for deeper meaning, a deeper understanding of reality, and a deeper sense of self.

We can say that death comes for our stories, and only takes us when we cannot let go.

Or we can say that death metes out death until we discover we cannot die.

It would be foolish to argue against the all too blunt reality of physical death and the very real experience of loss in daily life. It is not so much that “learning” these lessons inoculates us against death and loss; rather, we come to understand them differently. Loss happens, but it is part of the eternal rhythm of movement through one’s life. Death happens, but perhaps it is not the loss of self we feared. When we let go of our carefully constructed ideas of self and come to see the immense, undefined being we actually are, the flow of coming and going becomes a very different experience.

Beat, my heart… Not all
has been swallowed by the earth.

Wishing you a joyful, life-filled day today!


Recommended Books: Antonio Machado

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado Border of a Dream: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado
More Books >>


Antonio Machado, Antonio Machado poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Antonio Machado

Spain (1875 – 1939) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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3 responses so far

Jul 08 2015

the world we live in

We can choose
the world we live in
and the way
we live in the world.

No responses yet

Jul 07 2015

Books Received – part 1

Published by under Books,Poetry

I periodically receive poetry books in the mail. That is always a treat — a package with someone’s thoughts and insights, observations and feelings, their art and aspirations.

Of course, the authors and publishers who send these books are naturally hoping that I will prominently feature their books on the Poetry Chaikhana. Often these books contain truly excellent poetry, but because the focus of the Poetry Chaikhana is fairly specific, even truly great poetry is not always the right fit. Other times, the book and its poetry are just right for the Poetry Chaikhana, but I may not be able to add them for quite a while.

I would like to acknowledge all of the wonderful books I receive, however. I know from my own experience as a publisher each book sent out represents a hope for some sort of connection or in the hopes of reaching a wider audience. And there is a certain expense involved with sending out each book.

Whether or not I eventually feature selections from these books, I want to thank the authors and publishers who have sent their cherished works, I am listing several books received in the last few months. This is a partial selection. I will acknowledge more books that have been received soon…


The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson
New Versions in English, Irish and Scots

By Gabriel Rosenstock & John McDonald

Gabriel Rosenstock’s poetry and translations have been a long-time favorite on the Poetry Chaikhana. It’s a treat to read through an entire book of his translations of the great haiku master Buson.

white lotus
a monk about to cut it –
between two minds

loiteog bhán
manach ar tí í a stoitheadh –
idir dhá aigne

fite lotus
a monk about tae sned it –
atween twa minds


The Happiness of Is: Poems of Wonder – Pictures of Delight
By Günter Saure

This is one to appreciate as much for the photographs as for the poetry.

here
I
am

and
very mysteriously
much to my surprise
there is

no
one
there


The Next True Story of My Life: Poems
By Lois Holub

Old Woman

Old woman is dreaming
while spiders mend and wait,
while moonlight moves from the top of the cedar
to the forest floor.
A faint reflection of stars resting in her hair
And the night curled in her hands,
Old Woman dreams of snow and of snow melting
on her tongue,
of laughter on the riverbank and the smell of the sun.
She dreams of her mother’s voice.
Old Woman is dreaming of her lovers,
of the white limbs of the cottonwood against the sky.
She dreams across valleys
and over the dark rise of mountains.

She is teacher, poet, healer
singer, storyteller, gift giver.
She is a river of tears.
She is laughter in the belly.
She lights the fire
and she puts the fire out.
She sleeps in the ashes and embers and flames
and rises dream-tempered,
warm to the touch.


Plain Living, Happy Singing: Haiku Scenes
By Toshi Ida

She peels an apple.
He gazes at her hands –
The retired couple.


Three books by the Hailstone Haiku Circle:

Seasons of the Gods: Haiku Poems

Hugging the cedar
I put my ear to it:
another season

(Reiko Hayahara)

Meltdown: An Anthology of Haiku Z to A

A rich collection organized alphabetically by subject, from “zone” to “apology.”

At summer’s close,
scarecrows awarded medals
of dragonflies

(Tito)

Lost Heian: A Japan-in-Asia Haiku Gathering

Sprinting through the words
of the open dictionary –
a tiny spider

(Keiko Yurugi)

One response so far

Jul 01 2015

Andrew Colliver – Come

Published by under Poetry

Come
by Andrew Colliver

Every day I am astonished by
how little I know, and discouraged,
obedient as I am to the demand to
know more — always more.

But then there is the slow seep
of light from the day,
and I look to the west where
the hills are darkening,

setting their shoulders to the night,
and the sky peppered with pillows
of mist, their bellies burnt
by the furnace of the sun.

And it is then that I notice
the invitation didn’t say, Come
armed with knowledge and a loud voice
.
It only said, Come.


/ Image by MicroAlex /

Each new poem by Andrew Colliver somehow finds a surprisingly moving tension between art and insight. This poem, for example, was sent to me directly by the author just a few days ago, and it immediately grabbed hold of me.

Every day I am astonished by
how little I know, and discouraged,
obedient as I am to the demand to
know more — always more.

Reading those lines for the first time, I had to smile. It was as if some part of my own self was speaking to me. This is something I have certainly recognized in myself.

Like many of you, I was born with a hungry head. I always wanted to know. I was curious about everything, how things work, how things connect, why things are the way they are. So, naturally, I approached the spiritual journey this way, as well.

The good thing about this approach is that it encourages you to bring your full awareness to your spirituality. The questioning mind, the curious mind, the cynical mind, the categorizing mind, the discriminating mind — these can be powerful motivating forces within oneself, drawing together your energies, focusing them toward a difficult goal, allowing you to continuously examine and reformulate yourself and your understanding of reality.

That’s the good thing. The bad thing is that this approach can easily get stuck in the head. One can easily fall into the trap of turning the spiritual journey into an intellectual enterprise, confusing the acquisition of “spiritual” information with genuine awareness.

When I have more deeply confronted this tendency within myself, I have discovered an interesting reason behind this approach: On some level, I carried the idea that I had to somehow earn awakening or spiritual depth. And, in my personal makeup, the way I tried to prove my worthiness was through building a fortress of knowledge.

That basic thought, of somehow not being worthy without the “proof” of impressive knowledge, was a core barrier to my own opening process. And the more I learned, whether through books or teachers or even through my own direct experience, often reinforced that fundamental barrier. All of that has a way of strengthening a more polished form of ego while we are trying to be more “spiritual.”

When so much of your proposed future enlightened self is built on the idea of acquired “spiritual” knowledge, trying to move beyond that wall can feel like blindness, aimlessness, the loss of spiritual direction.

It requires the humility, self-honest, and trust necessary to walk an unknown path and get lost, look like a fool, disappoint your peers. Bruised and disoriented, we learn to feel our way. Feeling, we begin to discover the heart and the secret intelligence it carries.

I am in no way denigrating either rational thought or spiritual study. These can be essential in developing clarity and focus. They can provide us with a much needed map and the internal tools to assess the landscape. But the job is not to paper the walls of our bedrooms with maps; the purpose is to actually make the journey, to feel each step of the land beneath our feet. Whether we bring one map or a stack of atlases or walk with empty hands, it is unknown territory we step into. We are but small travelers in the midst of great mystery.

Best not to worry overmuch about knowledge or earning your way. We are all already worthy. Knowing that, we know enough. All that is left to do is to answer the call and give ourselves permission to take that bold first step.

And it is then that I notice
the invitation didn’t say,
Come
armed with knowledge and a loud voice.
It only said,
Come.

Buen camino!


Recommended Books: Andrew Colliver

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology)


Andrew Colliver

Australia (1953 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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9 responses so far

Jul 01 2015

like water

Like water, yield
and so find your destination.

No responses yet

Jun 26 2015

Juan Ramon Jimenez – Who Knows What is Going On

Published by under Poetry

Who Knows What is Going On
by Juan Ramon Jimenez

English version by Robert Bly

      Who knows what is going on on the other side of each hour?

      How many times the sunrise was
there, behind a mountain!

      How many times the brilliant cloud piling up far off
was already a golden body full of thunder!

      This rose was poison.

      That sword gave life.

      I was thinking of a flowery meadow
at the end of a road,
and found myself in the slough.

      I was thinking of the greatness of what was human,
and found myself in the divine.

— from The Winged Energy of Delight, Translated by Robert Bly


/ Image by xucra /

Who knows what is going on on the other side of each hour?

Isn’t that just a wonderful opening line? It’s one of those profound, enigmatic statements that can trip you up full stop, making the rest of the poem an afterthought.

But what is the poet saying? I think he’s encouraging us to not bring our assumptions to each experience in life. We have to encounter each experience, each hour, as it is, not as we expect it to be. This is why he turns our expectations on their head with lines like:

This rose was poison.

That sword gave life.

Every single thing holds its secret and is pregnant with surprise…

How many times the brilliant cloud piling up far off
was already a golden body full of thunder!

To approach life without the false certainty of what each experience holds requires a supreme humility. It requires us to cherish the unexpected possibilities of each encounter more deeply than our own accumulating history. It requires a silence of mind, a sense of wonder, and a restoration of our inherent innocence. But, when we truly learn to live this way, magic happens! We open ourselves and, in turn, the common things we encounter open themselves to us, revealing hidden worlds within…

I was thinking of the greatness of what was human,
and found myself in the divine.


Recommended Books: Juan Ramon Jimenez

The Winged Energy of Delight News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Invisible Reality Time and Space: A Poetic Autobiography
More Books >>


Juan Ramon Jimenez, Juan Ramon Jimenez poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Juan Ramon Jimenez

Spain (1881 – 1958) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jun 26 2015

each day

Each day
magically unfolds possibility
into reality.

No responses yet

Jun 24 2015

Zeynep Hatun – I am a fountain, You are my water

Published by under Poetry

I am a fountain, You are my water
by Zeynep Hatun

English version by Murat Yagan

I am a fountain, You are my water.
I flow from You to You.

I am an eye, You are my light,
I look from You to You.

You are neither my right nor my left.
You are my foot and my arm as well.

I am a traveler, You are my road.
I go from You to You.

— from Women in Sufism: A Hidden Treasure – Writings and Stories of Mystics Poets, Scholars & Saints, Edited by Camille Adams Helminski


/ Image by putonicfluf /

I have loved this poem ever since I discovered it several years ago. That makes it doubly frustrating that, in the intervening years, I have only found one other poem by her in English translation (and that second poem’s translation was a rather dry Victorian translation).

This single poem suggests such a richness of soul behind it. Perhaps it is enough to stand for all the poems that have fallen silent.

I am a fountain, You are my water.
I flow from You to You.

The single image of a fountain and flowing water elegantly suggests so much to us: The Divine Beloved is the vivifying, animating, all-permeating medium. The water is the life and soul of the fountain.

The imagery suggests to us a sense of self that is no longer fixed. Whatever we are, we flow. And everywhere we flow from, through, and to, we remain in contact with the Beloved.

I am a traveler, You are my road.
I go from You to You.

Each step, each arc of movement and point of rest, is another instance of delicious touch in the divine love affair that is life’s journey.


Recommended Books: Zeynep Hatun

Women in Sufism: A Hidden Treasure – Writings and Stories of Mystics Poets, Scholars & Saints


Zeynep Hatun

Turkey (15th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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7 responses so far

Jun 24 2015

return home

We pursue the Divine
for the same reason we return home
at the end of each workday:
It is where we belong when all effort is done.

No responses yet

Jun 19 2015

Health, Suffering & Meaning

It’s the end of a rough health week for me. I mustered enough steam for my day job, but I didn’t have the proper focus or energy to select a few poems, really spend some time with them, and share my thoughts. I was going to let the Poetry Chaikhana be silent this week, but then I remembered this note about health and suffering I wrote a few years ago. As something that was written in the midst of a particularly difficult bout, it’s not exactly an “all is light” sort of statement, but I hope that it helps to awaken that inner fire and grit we all need sometimes to get through life’s challenges…

Here’s the thing: Not every disease or discomfort is meant to be overcome.

That’s a hard thing to say, and even harder to accept. But it’s true. If disease dares to show up in our lives, we want it fixed, removed. We want to get on with life and refuse to see disease as being part of life. Even in the holistic health community which views illness as a teacher, we often want to learn the “lesson” so we can quickly dismiss the teacher.

Sometimes, though, dis-ease is an annoyingly persistent teacher. It teaches us interior awareness. Not something learned quickly. It teaches sheer endurance. And, maybe the most difficult lesson, surrender. Many of us get into the world of “alternative” health as a way to take control. But surrender, that’s much more difficult to achieve with grace. It requires real subtlety to even distinguish between surrender and defeat. I don’t think we should give in or give up. I personally keep trying new things, new approaches, new… strategies. Maybe it’s my Aries nature, but I sometimes think of it as a sparring match. I don’t necessarily get into to it to win. I just like the sparring. Like a martial artist. The back and forth teaches me more about myself.

Don’t speak of your suffering — He is speaking.
Don’t look for Him everywhere — He’s looking for you.

– Sanai

Jealousy

One other thing that has come to me over the years — one of the mental reflexes for suffering is jealousy. That’s not the first emotion one normally associates with illness, but it’s often lurking in the background. I’ve certainly noticed it.

Why should I have so much of my life and attention diverted by this, when everyone else has it easy?

Says Farid,
I thought I was alone who suffered.
I went on top of the house,
And found every house on fire.

– Baba Sheikh Farid

I’m always being reminded that no one has it easy. Sure, some people have less struggle, while others have heartbreaking levels of suffering. But, when the weariness clears, I glimpse a surprising truth: None of that is the point. The purpose of the human spirit isn’t to be free from difficulty.

That may sound like a cold statement, but it is not. When deeply embraced, this understanding opens us to greater levels of empathy and compassion, and it begins to create a profound resilience within ourselves, allowing us to encounter suffering without shutting down. In other words, if you hold in your mind the idea that suffering is inherently and always wrong, then when you encounter it, you will instinctively shut down. If, however, you accept the existence of suffering — in yourself, in others — your eyes and heart remain open and your hands become willing in the midst of struggles. Accepting suffering gives you greater ability to genuinely alleviate it.

Spirituality and Health

There is a related unconscious thought we often carry that suffering and illness are the sign that something is imperfect about ourselves spiritually. Saints get cancer and have heart attacks. Sages suffer epilepsy. Medicine women get migraines. The body, being a limited vehicle designed to operate in a sometimes disharmonious environment, will sometimes ail. The mark of attainment is not a lack of struggle, but how we respond to that struggle.

Our lives are simply stories. Sometimes the drama and the heat are high, sometimes they are quiet. What is important is the meaning we discover and reveal through that drama. It’s a supremely difficult paradox: We have to engage intensely in the body and the challenges of life, yet, at the same time, it’s not personal… it’s a fascinating story being told through us.

The hallowing of Pain
Like hallowing of Heaven,
Obtains at corporeal cost
The Summit is not given

To Him who strives severe
At middle of the Hill
But He who has achieved the Top
All is the price of All

– Emily Dickinson

Meaning and Suffering

The ultimate question is one of meaning. When we discover meaning in suffering, the suffering becomes endurable. Even comfort and ease, without meaning, eventually become unbearable.

Illness may be devastating, but discovering meaning feeds a hunger even more fundamental than the desire to be free from pain. It feeds the hunger of the soul to know itself.

That hunger, when left unfed, is the real source of suffering in the world.

how can the heart in love
ever stop opening
– Rumi

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I also have to acknowledge the heartbreaking murders that took place at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Not only does my heart go out to the suffering families and friends of those who were killed, but my heart also goes out to a country, my country, that wants so much to declare racism to be a thing of the past, but has yet to honestly confront that history and its repercussions today.

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Finally, to all my Muslim friends, I hope this Ramadan is a special time of reconnecting with the Divine and reconnecting with what is pure and true within oneself.

Blessings! And have a healing weekend!

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Jun 12 2015

Book Announcement: Dorothy Walters, Marrow of Flame

Published by under Poetry

Dorothy Walters is a poet of stunning talent, startling wisdom, and wide open heart — which makes it a genuine pleasure to be able to announce that the Poetry Chaikhana will be publishing a new edition of her most popular collection of poetry, Marrow of Flame: Poems of the Spiritual Journey.

Ever since Marrow of Flame was originally published in 2000 by Hohm Press, its poetry of passionate awakening and self-transformation has inspired so many modern day seekers. These are the words of a woman who is a contemporary mystic, someone who is humble and approachable, yet she writes with clarity and poetic skill. This collection of poetry has found its way to a respected place in the bookshelves of seekers, teachers, and religious leaders alike.

But the original publisher relinquished its publishing rights, allowing this beloved book to fall out of print, with only a few copies left in circulation. Dorothy Walters approached me to see if I would be willing to publish a new edition of Marrow of Flame as a Poetry Chaikhana book. I gladly agreed!

The Poetry Chaikhana will be publishing the new edition of Marrow of Flame later this summer.

I wanted to let you all know in advance to build some anticipation. I have been working with Dorothy Walters on the final layout and formatting, as well as other minor corrections to the first edition. The great Andrew Harvey, who wrote the introduction to the first edition, has contributed a new introduction to this second edition.

Here is an excerpt of what Andrew Harvey had to say about this new edition of Marrow of Flame:

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

Whatever path you are on, read these quietly astounding love-poems to the Divine and let them guide you into the truth of your real nature and into the real nature of a world everywhere “Drowned in God.”

This new edition of Marrow of Flame is a beautiful collection of poetry, one I am very proud to publish. I will let you all know as we get closer to the publication date. Stay tuned!

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