Jun 13 2014

permission

The joy is there
awaiting permission.

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Jun 11 2014

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – Intimate Hymn

Published by under Poetry

Intimate Hymn
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

English version by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi

From word to word I roam, from dawn to dusk.
Dream in, dream out — I pass myself and towns,
A human satellite.

I wait, am hopeful, as one who waits at the rock
For the spring to well forth and ever well on.
I feel as bright as if I tented somewhere in the Milky Way.
To urge the world to feel I walk through lonesome solitudes.

All around me lightning explodes sparks from my glance
To reveal all light, unveil faces everywhere.
Godward, onward to the final weighing
overcoming heavy weight with thirst.
Constantly, the longings of all born call out, “Is anyone around?”
I know each one is HE, but in my heart there writhes a tear;
When of men and rocks and trees I hear;
All plead “Feel us”
All beg “See us”
God! Lend me your eyes!

I came to be, to sow the seed of sight in the world,
To unmask the God who disguised Himself as world–
And yes, I wait to be the first to announce “The Dawn.”

- from “Human, God’s Ineffable Name,” by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, freely rendered by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi. Available from the Reb Zalman Legacy Project


/ Photo by mildhand /

This poem speaks to me, especially to the person I was in my late teens and early 20s. It beautifully conveys the push and pull of the heart eager to break open, the soul eager to feel, the inner eye eager to truly see.

Relating to the world in this way can be disorienting, even frightening at first. Peering beneath the facades and behind the world’s competitive normalcy, the seeing eye can’t help but recognize a terrible ache everywhere present:

All plead “Feel us”
All beg “See us”

Everyone and everything yearns to be noticed, recognized, seen. There is a terrible spiritual hunger at the heart of reality: We all desperately want our existence to be validated in the eyes of another. Not just that we are, but who we are.

The seeker, the visionary, the artist, instinctively wants to be that witness. And so we make ourselves vulnerable in order to see and to feel honestly. But how are we not then overwhelmed by that pleading call coming at us from every direction? Rabbi Heschel gets right to the solution with his prayer–

God! Lend me your eyes!

The solution is to become an open conduit through which the boundaryless Divine can answer. We learn to see honestly, feel honestly, and step out of the way of the immensely honest response ready to pour through.

In this way, God unmasks God. Seeing through you God witnesses God. We complete the divine game of hide-and-seek in each other.

I came to be, to sow the seed of sight in the world,
To unmask the God who disguised Himself as world–
And yes, I wait to be the first to announce “The Dawn.”

Rabbi Heschel was an important figure in modern Hassidic Jewish spirituality, and he was also a key figure in the US civil rights movement and anti-war movement of the 1960s.

I chose this poem today just as much to honor its translator, Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi. Reb Zalman, as he is often called, is himself a much-beloved spiritual teacher, peace-worker, author, and leader in inter-religious dialog. Although I don’t know the details, I have heard that Reb Zalman is unwell. I hope you will join me in sending blessings and good wishes to this great soul.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel poetry, Jewish poetry Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Poland & US (1907 – 1972) Timeline
Jewish

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Jun 11 2014

fierce eye

See everything
with a fierce eye
and a gentle heart.

One response so far

Jun 06 2014

John O’Donohue – Beannacht / Blessing

Published by under Poetry

Beannacht / Blessing
by John O’Donohue

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

— from Echoes of Memory, by John O’Donohue


/ Photo by jimmy brown /

Like a wise man who has seen much, O’Donohue doesn’t shy away from the terrible difficulties we all encounter on the journey of life in the opening lines. But he also suggests to us that there is a silent conspiracy to help us forward, support and intelligence in the very earth beneath our feet.

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

His lines are not only filled with a patient sort of compassion, he reminds us that compassion and quiet wisdom is present all around us.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

I think the real power of a blessing poem like this is that it weaves a new vision of the world in words. The real blessing gives us is new eyes.

may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

The real blessing is that these words give us new ways to view the world we encounter, laying for us a new pattern for ordering our perception of reality. If we let it, this blessing becomes “an invisible cloak,” a heartful awareness that is a gentle buffer while it also keeps us connected to our world.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Blessings!



[BOOK LIST REPEATING]

John O'Donohue, John O'Donohue poetry, Christian poetry John O’Donohue

Ireland (1956 – 2008) Timeline
Christian : Catholic
Secular or Eclectic

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Jun 06 2014

the space between

God inhabits the space between our thoughts.

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Jun 04 2014

Farid ud-Din Attar – A slave’s freedom

Published by under Poetry

A slave’s freedom
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

Loghman of Sarrakhs cried: “Dear God, behold
Your faithful servant, poor, bewildered, old–
An old slave is permitted to go free;
I’ve spent my life in patient loyalty,
I’m bent with grief, my black hair’s turned to snow;
Grant manumission, Lord, and let me go.”
A voice replied: “When you have gained release
from mind and thought, your slavery will cease;
You will be free when these two disappear.”
He said: “Lord, it is You whom I revere;
What are the mind and all its ways to me?”
And left them there and then — in ecstasy
He danced and clapped his hands and boldly cried:
“Who am I now? The slave I was has died;
What’s freedom, servitude, and where are they?
Both happiness and grief have fled away;
I neither own nor lack all qualities;
My blindness looks on secret mysteries –
I know not whether You are I, I You;
I lose myself in You, there is no two.”

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


/ Photo by Lucas Incas /

This paints a striking image, doesn’t it? An old man, a slave all his life, bent, worn, prays to God for his freedom.

My first question: Whom is the old man slave to? He is not begging some human master for freedom. He is asking God. So does that mean he is God’s slave? Perhaps. A lot of religious language — Muslim, Christian, Hindu — refers to the faithful as slaves or servants of God. But that imagery can also make us uncomfortable. It can conjure images of a cruel and arbitrary God. It does, however, convey the absolute dedication of the servant, a willingness to merge the personal will with the Divine.

Another way of look at the old man’s servitude is that he has been a slave to the world. Remember that “the world” is not reality, it is consensus reality, a false and limited idea of reality. The world is reality hidden by the heavy blanket of our mental projections. At best, the world gives us only a rough idea of the contours of reality in its fulness… that is, until we stop perceiving through the imperfect filter of the mind under the control of the nafs (the ego).

He [the slave] said: “Lord, it is You whom I revere;
What are the mind and all its ways to me?”

Having spent himself totally in the immense labor of his life, the old slave has little reason left to cling to the false images of the mind. So he lets that old habit fall away and “in ecstasy / He danced and clapped his hands…” This one act of exhausted courage is all he needs for liberation.

Attachment to the mind and its ways is the fundamental attachment. Every other attachment, every desire and hatred, every habit, every disharmonious pattern stems from that fundamental attachment. True renunciation does not necessarily require monk’s robes or retreating to a mountain cave. It only requires dropping that fundamental attachment to mind, freeing the full awareness from mind’s filters and stickiness. Whether we are a solitary desert dervish or a career person with a large family, that’s the one act of renunciation we all must accomplish to find our freedom.

Notice also that freedom was always available to the slave. He could have had his freedom at any time, at any point in his long life. But the reality is that we often don’t find the courage, or even think to ask the questions that lead us there, until we’ve worn ourselves out in the endless efforts of slavery. This is why I sometimes say that the purpose of spiritual practice is to wear yourself out. We need to come to a point when we grow weary of our own patterns and compulsive ways of seeing ourselves that we finally, wearily give ourselves permission to take that single step beyond the mind’s clutches. The rigors of life alone will do that just fine, but it can be a slow, grinding process and we have to walk our path with open awareness and open heart, which is not easy amidst the onslaught of daily challenges. Spiritual practices allow us to internalize that intensity while imbuing it with a purpose that encourages us to keep heart and awareness open.

But all that’s really needed is that one step.

Then, free from that chained sense of reality, all sense of effort falls away. Even the sense of self falls away. All that remains is the blissful sense of melting with divine reality.

“Who am I now? The slave I was has died;
What’s freedom, servitude, and where are they?
Both happiness and grief have fled away;
I neither own nor lack all qualities;
My blindness looks on secret mysteries –
I know not whether You are I, I You;
I lose myself in You, there is no two.”

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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Jun 04 2014

renounce

Renounce the past.
Renounce the future.

Rediscover them in the present.

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May 30 2014

Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman

Published by under Poetry

Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

— from Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women, by Maya Angelou


/ Photo by KealaKC /

Many of you have probably heard by now of the passing of the great American poet and activist Maya Angelou, so I thought we’d have a poem today in honor of that phenomenal woman.

Of course we have to read this poem aloud in order to enjoy the song in the rhyme and rhythm — go ahead, make some noise. Catch its sassy swaying proclamation of selfhood.

Woman, not some idealized form found in glossy magazine. Woman, not defined by a man as lover, wife, mother. Woman, not the virgin stripped of sex, and not the whore plastered with it. But woman, full and strong and bold. Praise to that mighty presence! Phenomenal woman.

Maya Angelou, Maya Angelou poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Maya Angelou

US (1928 – 2014) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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May 30 2014

discipline and love

Holiness is born of love,
not discipline.

Discipline only increases
your capacity to love.

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May 29 2014

Video: David Whyte TED Talk

Published by under Poetry,Videos

David Whyte: “Alertness is the discipline of familiarity.”

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May 21 2014

Kobayashi Issa – even poorly planted

Published by under Poetry

even poorly planted
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by David G. Lanoue

even poorly planted
rice plants
slowly, slowly…green!

- from the website http://haikuguy.com/issa/


/ Photo by Deboarah Austin /

Something so… healing about this haiku. Do you have the same reaction?

To me these words suggest that no matter how imperfect we imagine our circumstances — lack of education, finances, travel, guide, whatever we think might be missing that’s holding us back — still we inexorably grow green. Spirit awakens within us with utter disregard to the limiting details of our lives. And what is truly beautiful is watching the unique ways that greenness comes upon us. The story we get to share with the world is the specific way the spirit rises in us, the special path it finds around the obstacles that make up our specific lives, and how we are often strengthened by this navigation.

And while daily life itself may have its challenges and struggles, that greening process, well, it just happens. Slowly, patiently, naturally. All we have to do is let it.

Kobayashi Issa, Kobayashi Issa poetry, Buddhist poetry Kobayashi Issa

Japan (1763 – 1828) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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May 21 2014

each step

Each step
is part of the journey.

No responses yet

May 19 2014

Dorothy Walters – After

Published by under Poetry

After
by Dorothy Walters

There is one thing certain.
Once you have stood
in the midst of that
searing flame,
been struck down
to earth
like a pilgrim
entered by light at last
and have lain there,
waiting,
not quite certain –

how can you ever know again
what it is
not to be blinded by the light,
never to have gone there
to the top of the snow hung peak
and felt that nameless something
descend onto your shoulders,
your breast,
even as you bent forward
in disbelief.

— from The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension, by Dorothy Walters


/ Photo by Trekking Rinjani /

Hold onto your doubt, if it serves you. Keep questioning even in the moment of your most radical transformation.

Once you have stood
in the midst of that
searing flame,
been struck down
to earth
like a pilgrim
entered by light at last
and have lain there,
waiting,
not quite certain –

But don’t think your disbelief can trump the reality you now see and know.

how can you ever know again
what it is
not to be blinded by the light…

It may not fit our world view, it may not fit our religion, and we know all too well our foolish failings, yet still there is this flood of light eager to burst forth within us and overturn all our rock-solid understanding.

and felt that nameless something
descend onto your shoulders,
your breast,
even as you bent forward
in disbelief.

Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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May 19 2014

myth

The ego is a personal myth,
a story we tell ourselves
about who we are.
That story can change, expand,
or grow silent.

No responses yet

May 16 2014

Yunus Emre – True speech is the fruit of not speaking

Published by under Poetry

True speech is the fruit of not speaking
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

True speech is the fruit of not speaking.
Too much talking clouds the heart.

If you want to clear the heart,
say this much, the essence of all talking:

Speak truly. God speaks through words truly spoken.
Falsity ends in pain.

Unless you witness all of creation in a single glance,
you’re in sin even with all your religion.

The explanation of the Law is this:
The Law is a ship. Truth is her ocean.

No matter how strong the wood,
the sea can smash the ship.

The secret is this:
A “saint” of religion may in reality be an unbeliever.

We will master this science and read this book of love.
God instructs. Love is His school.

Since the glance of the saints fell on poor Yunus
nothing has been a misfortune.

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


/ Photo by Professor Zeeshan Shah /

Yunus Emre is always such a delight to me! This poem, for example, isn’t it wonderful? It’s difficult not to break into a smile reading it… even when some words sting.

With this song, Yunus Emre gives us a sharply teasing reminder that even if we follow all of the rules of our religious tradition, that’s not the same thing as achieving saintliness or holiness.

The secret is this:
A “saint” of religion may in reality be an unbeliever.

This is something fundamentalists of every religion keep stumbling over: Following your religion’s ritual, rules, and way of life can be a profound pathway, an enriching and challenging spiritual practice; but it is not the goal in itself. The living ocean of truth is the goal.

The explanation of the Law is this:
The Law is a ship. Truth is her ocean.

No matter how strong the wood,
the sea can smash the ship.

The goal must never be lost in the minutia of the rules. A true believer is someone who merges fully with that divine ocean, however that soul manages to reach the water. Even someone who perfectly lives the life of a “saint”, if that person isn’t drenched and blissfully drowning, that person is still an unbeliever…

Mystics have the irritating habit of cutting through religious pretense while restoring its heart:

Unless you witness all of creation in a single glance,
you’re in sin even with all your religion.

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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 16 2014

contact

Every person: God.
Every animal, every plant: God.
Everything: God, God!
The slightest contact is worship.

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May 09 2014

Nazrul Islam – He who has seen my Mother

Published by under Poetry

He who has seen my Mother
by Nazrul Islam

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott

He who has seen my Mother
can he hate his brother?
She loves everyone in the three worlds;
her heart cries for all.
With her there’s no difference of caste,
no distinction between high and low;
all are the same.
If she sees a Candala
like Rama with Guhak
she clasps him to her breast.
Ma is our Great Illusion, highest Nature, and
Father our highest Self;
      that’s why one feels love for all
      we feel love for all.
If you worship the Mother
hating her children
she won’t accept your puja;
the Ten-Armed One will not.
The day we forget the knowledge of difference
            on that day only
            will Ma come home to us.

— from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott


/ Photo by thelearningcurv /

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the US, Canada, and many other countries. My own mother died a few years ago, so her birthday, which was May 3rd, followed closely by Mother’s Day, has a particular resonance for me. I think about my mother, who she was, what she meant to me, but I also notice a softening of the once hard edges of my memory of her. The mother I remember is a specific woman with whom I share life history, but my memory of her expands, becomes more universal. In her I sometimes see the woman who was my mother, and sometimes I find myself relating to an archetypal idea of Mother.

So I thought this poem addressed to the Great Mother by Nazrul Islam might be a good one to contemplate today…

The Great Mother is my mother, yet the mother of all. She is the mother of the people, the mother of the world, the bringer into being of all that is. Through the one universal Mother, we are all brothers and sisters.

He who has seen my Mother
can he hate his brother?

All faiths recognize a universal brotherhood of humanity, but too often it feels like a vague philosophical concept or merely a pleasant statement. But when we bring an image of the Divine Feminine into our sense of sacred reality, whether as one of the other great Hindu goddesses, Mother Mary, Sophia, one of the pre-Christian goddesses of Europe, even a revered female saint, the universal family of life becomes a more tangible, felt reality to us. That touch of the Mother frees our philosophies from the head and brings them into the heart and into the belly, and we experience the interconnectedness of things in a more visceral, immediate way. Brotherhood ceases to be a nice idea and becomes the simple and obvious reality.

In the Mother/Father dichotomy, the Divine Father is often seen as the embodiment of the pure essence of being, while the Divine Mother is the power of creation… and her will to create comes from Love. So she is also Love. Every being is her child whom she loves.

She loves everyone in the three worlds;
her heart cries for all.

And she loves all her children equally.

With her there’s no difference of caste,
no distinction between high and low;
all are the same.

And they don’t often mention this in greeting cards, but Mother’s Day was started as a peace movement. The idea behind it was that, if we remember and honor our own mothers, we will remember that every person has a mother who loved them, which turns war into a terrible farce. Mother’s day is a day of family love and world peace.

How can we say we worship the Most Loving One yet harbor hate in our hearts? Can we divide ourselves from our brothers and sisters and still think ourselves worthy of the Universal Mother?

If you worship the Mother
hating her children
she won’t accept your puja [worship]

I should point out that this poem may have been written with an important, but somewhat less elevated intention behind it. Nazrul Islam, as his name implies, was Muslim, yet some of his poetry is addressed to Kali, the Mother Goddess of Bengali Hindus — though he often refers to her more generically as Mother or Ma. Nazrul Islam composed his poetry during the time of British control of India and, in Bengal, the Mother Goddess came to be viewed as a personification of Mother India and the determination to be free of foreign domination. So, rather than a poem of universal brotherhood, this might be read as a poem to awaken national unity between the Indian Muslims and Hindus while striving to free themselves from the British imperial yoke.

That perspective transforms the final lines–

The day we forget the knowledge of difference
            on that day only
            will Ma come home to us.

–into the practical insight that only when they work together will they succeed in re-establishing an independent Indian nation.

The Mother, it seems, is both a peace activist and an independence fighter. In the immensity of her being, the Mother integrates and embodies both.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Nazrul Islam, Nazrul Islam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Nazrul Islam

India/Bangladesh (1899 – 1976) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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