Mar 09 2018

Anna Swir – Myself and My Person

Published by under Poetry

Myself and My Person
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

There are moments
when I feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.
This comforts and reassures me,
this heartens me,
just as my tridimensional body
is heartened by my own authentic shadow.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Until now that has not happened
but it does not settle the question.

— from Talking to My Body, by Anna Swir / Translated by Czeslaw Milosz


/ Image by vanillapearl /

Something today by the wonderful Polish poet, Anna Swir.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

Whatever our background or belief system, we keep having this central encounter — that stranger, that shadow or twin, who is ourself.

Busy with our lives, we hunger for some experiences, struggle to avoid others, while some we just hope to survive. Then a moment comes, perhaps wondrous or utterly ordinary, and all our experiences fold in on themselves and there we discover our own selves for the first time experiencing them.

A strange division of self occurred somewhere in our forgotten formation, for we recognize that there are actually two “I”s: The “I” I assume myself to be, and the “I” that is “my own person,” who I really am.

It is absurd, really. We always know who we are, right? Who and what we are is the one constant in every instant of our lives. Yet somehow we encounter ourselves and it as if we are meeting a stranger for the first time. How can this self that I am be unknown to me? And how can this new self be so much bigger and less broken than I thought I was? Who is this stranger that I am?

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Just how different can this self of selves be from my daily self? Can it go one way, while I go another? What does that even mean? Can it be an “it,” separate from myself while still being myself? Which me is me, and which it is an it?

When we finally recognize our full selves, we have the opportunity to shift our identity. As this new self, we become immensely real in a way that the old, mundane self never quite was. The pretense of the prior self is revealed. The bigger self brightens and the old self is lost in the light.

So, my advice: If you stop at a street corner and notice your own person walking to the right, turn right and follow.


Recommended Books: Anna Swir

Talking to My Body Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems


Anna Swir, Anna Swir poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Anna Swir

Poland (1909 – 1984) Timeline
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Mar 09 2018

knowing our hearts

We learn the way
by knowing our hearts.

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Mar 07 2018

Hakim Sanai – There is no place for place!

Published by under Poetry

There is no place for place!
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Ivan M. Granger

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space,
or the vast sky enclose
      the maker of heaven?

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
      and see me.”

Tell me, if the one you seek
is placeless,
why put your shoes on?
The real road
is found by polishing, polishing
      the mirror of your heart.

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


/ Image by RobertoBertero /

I’ve always loved these verses, but this morning it’s the middle verse that especially stands out to me–

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
      and see me.”

Mystics, through direct perception, often declare that there is a fundamental unity in existence. There is no real separation between beings. There is no separation between the individual and the Eternal.

But this raises a dilemma in the minds of some philosophers: In a reality where all is One, why then does the perception of separation and multiplicity emerge? Is that simply a false vision, a delusion, or does it serve a divine purpose, even if temporary? In other words, why does that externalized reality (“the world”) come into being?

One way this question is answered is to look at the journey of the individual human consciousness from birth, through individuation, to mature adulthood and, finally, hopefully, to wisdom and enlightenment. As newborn infants we don’t imagine ourselves to be separate from our mothers. There is hardly any self at all. Or, rather, self is so open that it is not a “self” in the normal sense. There is only Mother. And the wider reality is only the perception of sensation. This is a form of unity, but it is immature. This initial unity does not yet allow us to effectively interact with the wider, complex reality and embody our full potential.

Next, separation and individuation begins to occur. The toddler discovers a powerful word: “No!” A sense of self emerges. This is also when “the world” emerges. Wider reality becomes something outside ourselves, outside the self, separate. We get the dynamic of self and object, self and other.

That self-object dynamic is essential. It allows for interaction. It allows for experimentation and experience and growing comprehension. We gain a vantage point through which to perceive and understand reality. We gain a place to stand and to see.

As profound and necessary as this relationship with reality is, it is ultimately limited. It works well for the basic need of all beings to figure out how to survive and socially connect. But it is an incomplete picture, and it leaves us incomplete in ourselves. Even when, as mature adults, we learn the skills of the world, there is more. And we know it.

The wise woman or man is dedicated to continuing the maturation of the awareness, rediscovering that primal unity while integrating it with the hard-learned lessons of the world. This leads to true spiritual maturity, with vision and a place to stand, yet consciously connected to all things.

We need the world. We need a place to stand, so we can look and see. Eventually we once more see the One in the patterns of the many.

Then the idea of place falls away. Place only has meaning amidst the many, when seeking some segment of reality. But, when, in our full maturity, we seek the blissful vision of the Whole Reality, what meaning does place have anymore?

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space…?

Enough running about from place to place; we are on a journey to the placeless. Let’s kick off our shoes, sit down, and begin the quiet work of polishing that most secret center until we truly see, and know, and are lost in the vision…


Recommended Books: Hakim Sanai

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi
More Books >>


Hakim Sanai, Hakim Sanai poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Hakim Sanai

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Muslim / Sufi

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Mar 07 2018

Sacred texts

Sacred texts:

A map doesn’t mean anything
if you don’t make the journey.

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Feb 28 2018

Yuan Mei – Climbing the Mountain

Published by under Poetry

Climbing the Mountain
by Yuan Mei

English version by J. P. Seaton

I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
                  for a poem to come…

Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
                  leaning on my staff.

How I’d love to be a master
                  of the blue sky’s art:

see how many sprigs of snow-white cloud
                  he’s brushed in so far today.

— from I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei, Translated by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by serenity-temptations /

I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
                  for a poem to come…

I think any artist can relate to this opening line. We have our rituals, half prayerful, half desperate, seeking to draw forth that intangible spark of inspiration.

And what is it we seek really? One more poem, one more compelling scene for our novel in progress, a new variation on a classic melody, just the right angle for our subject in charcoal? While important, those are details, not the art itself, not that intangible something we are really fishing for in the quiet tense moments before creation.

What we’re really seeking is a feeling, a sense of budding life and purpose behind the technique of our creation. It is not craft we seek, but the unnamed animating spirit that will bless our craft, bring it to life, and awaken something in everyone touched by this new creation.

But art itself can be a trap. At its best, it is a magical act, a shamanic endeavor that transforms and heals society, bringing forth new possibilities within the human spirit. But art can also be a bellows for the ego, a way to reinforce one’s self-importance and place in the world. Too often art starts to point back to the artist’s own face.

Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
                  leaning on my staff.

In such moments, perhaps it is best to step back from the busy work of one more creation and remember to widen our scope in order to restore perspective. Any human act of creation, no matter how filled with life and magic, can never match the artistry writ large in the world all around us.

How I’d love to be a master
                  of the blue sky’s art:

If we only recognize that spark when captured by a human hand, we have lost a vital connection to the greater reality.

We must regularly return to the pool of wonder itself, found most naturally where the human being is incidental. We must remember to recognize the real art everywhere present, unsigned, just the artist’s hidden smile.

That is where the real communication is happening. Where you and I are not the authors, but stand instead as quiet witnesses, that is where the most profound transformation occurs. That is the real magical encounter.

see how many sprigs of snow-white cloud
                  he’s brushed in so far today.

Restored, we then return to our own actions and creations as a modest reflection of the great artist’s work. Our work in the world becomes a form of participation rather than self-aggrandizement.


Recommended Books: Yuan Mei

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet Censored by Confucius: Ghost Stories of Yuan Mei


Yuan Mei, Yuan Mei poetry, Buddhist poetry Yuan Mei

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

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Feb 28 2018

seasons of the self

The seasons of the self blossom
and turn inward again,
and through it all there is a still point within us
quietly watching, accepting, smiling.

One response so far

Feb 23 2018

Philip Booth – How to See a Deer

Published by under Poetry

How to See a Deer
by Philip Booth

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You’ve come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You’ve learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

— from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999, by Philip Booth


/ Image by Iamidaho /

With its elusiveness and profound stillness even in movement, the way it appears in the mist or vanishes into the forest (perhaps beckoning us to follow), deer represent to us that intangible reality we all seek on some level. The doe’s gentle face, suggests to us peace, beauty, trust. The stag’s majestic stance displaying his antlers, naturally evokes a primal sense of kingship and otherworldly might.

Naturally, the deer becomes a symbol for God, the Divine Beloved, the Messiah. But even when we set aside our religious lenses, we can’t help but feel that the solitary deer, encountered in a quiet moment, is an ambassador between worlds, hinting to us of another reality.

How do we meet this quiet spirit? How do we have the sacred encounter? The poet says it so beautifully: We go elsewhere, our own way. Next to wild places, and spots that invite rest and contemplation. Without expectations. With patience and trust. Pay attention to the rhythms of life all around. Trust your own nature. Listen to the inner voice. Learn to see anew. See what you see.

(Special thanks to Lalita Vajra for introducing me to this poem.)


Recommended Books: Philip Booth

Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999


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Feb 23 2018

Love everyone and everything

Love everyone and everything
with the last ounce of your being.
Love all until you are shattered
by love
and only love remains.

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Feb 23 2018

Spirituality, Poetry, and the Florida Shootings

I have intentionally waited to share any new poetry following the terrible mass shooting in Florida. I wanted to give everyone time to recover from the shock (though, sadly, these experiences have become so frequent in the US that they are a little less shocking each time they happen), and to allow your thoughts and responses to this latest massacre to take shape.

I can’t ignore horrifying events like the Florida shooting. I feel the need to address them directly in these emails and blog posts. If don’t, it feels strangely disconnected, as if I am pretending that everything is just fine.

In moments like this, I am not a fan of the “all is light” school of spirituality. While that is definitely a foundational truth — all of existence is an expression of the universal light, and this can be witnessed directly — there is a tendency to use these ideas superficially as a way to dismiss our discomforts and to not engage with our lives.

I believe that spirituality, and art, for that matter, must directly address the whole of human experience, including the horrifying and the traumatic, in order to be fit food for the spirit. Just as much as we need our eyes turned toward the stars, we need our feet on the ground, with our hands reaching out to help. We are not meant to float off to heaven. We are meant to bridge heaven and earth within ourselves. Perceptions and beliefs and the conscience want expression through us, through our lives, our words, our actions.

It is not fulfilling to turn to our spirituality or religion as a place to get away and get godly, or to get another “hit of bliss.” Real spirituality is about truth, reality, life. It encompasses everything, helping us to encounter life with a fullness of awareness and a true sense of who we really are and what we are capable of. Real spirituality is not about escape, it is about being present. It teaches us to drop our comfortable illusions and see clearly. It invites us to open our minds and our hearts. It challenges us to be the full beings we are, not the limited survivors we imagine ourselves to be.

And, when society is not embodying its highest ideals, real spirituality demands that we embody our own divine nature even more brightly, knowing that through interaction, communication, and the resonance of one’s being, society must respond and integrate each of us within the whole. What else is spirituality but finding that divine spark within ourselves, recognizing the same spark in everyone else, and then living by that truth courageously?

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Feb 13 2018

Manikkavacakar – Becoming sky & earth

Published by under Poetry

Becoming sky & earth
by Manikkavacakar

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


/ Image by Vik Nanda /

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything merging with the Eternal…

Becoming the Lord

From the egoless, all-permeating state, the yogin witnesses Lord Shiva’s dance play out. He sees people, creatures, all beings swept up in the rhythm of that great dance. From the yogin’s elevated state, the Tandava is an immense, colorful wonder of swirling movement, contact and conflict, birth and death, joy and suffering, rising and falling.

But to those swept up in the dance, the rhythms are overwhelming, the experiences can be terrifying. As beautiful as the great cosmic dance is, the individuals within it are engaged in exhaustive struggle, often disoriented, and sometimes touched by terrible suffering.

Why the disconnect between the macrocosmic majesty and the microcosmic misery?

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

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

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

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

Om Namah Shivaya!


Recommended Books: Manikkavacakar

The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice


Manikkavacakar

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

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Feb 13 2018

magically unfolds

Each day
magically unfolds possibility
into reality.

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Feb 06 2018

Constantine P. Cavafy – Ithaca

Published by under Poetry

Ithaca
by Constantine P. Cavafy

English version by George Barbanis

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
 
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
 
Always keep Ithaca on your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
 
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.


/ Image by makithaca /

A little motivation to take down that old copy of Homer’s Odyssey, dust it off, and crack it open once again. It was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager, with gods, monsters, heroes, adventure… and a reminder of my Greek heritage.

In the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus was returning home from the Trojan War to his island kingdom of Ithaca, but conflicts with gods and monsters and weather kept leading him off course into new adventures. It took him twenty years to finally return home!

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

Cavafy’s poem reminds us of the Odyssey’s hidden truth, that the hero’s journey to Ithaca is the soul’s journey home.

Ancient tradition says that Homer’s epics, the Illiad and the Odyssey, combine into a grand mystery tale, understood by initiates as describing the stages and struggles of the soul’s inner journey.

pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge…

Too often seekers disparage the road, its bumps and turns, impatient for the destination.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.

But the stops along the journey are not roadblocks, they are stepping stones. Actually, even that’s not true. Seen clearly, the journey and the destination are a single continuum. The river pours into the sea, and they are one. Seated on the slow-moving river, we already touch the sea.

…and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can…

Cavafy suggests that worldly experience, the senses, a certain amount of materialism, these too are part of the journey. The physical world is the realm through which the soul journeys. Encountering marvels and terrors the soul strengthens and comes to know itself. Knowing itself in victory and adversity, the soul is finally ready to return.

But to navigate through such bewildering, overwhelming experiences, the destination must never be forgotten:

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.

Don’t rush through the journey, impatient only for its end. The adventure is our soul’s story.

Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

The wisdom you attain with each step reveals the destination’s true meaning.

And it is just as true to say that the destination’s gift is contained in the journey itself:

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.


Recommended Books: Constantine P. Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems The Complete Poems of Cavafy: Expanded Edition Cavafy’s Alexandria Cavafy: A Biography


Constantine P. Cavafy, Constantine P. Cavafy poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Constantine P. Cavafy

Egypt (1863 – 1933) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Constantine P. Cavafy

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Feb 06 2018

Sift your life

Sift your life
until it becomes simply
what it is
and you become a thing unnamed.

No responses yet

Feb 02 2018

Ghraib Nawaz – The Second Jesus

Published by under Poetry

The Second Jesus
by Gharib Nawaz

English version by Peter Lamborn Wilson and Nasrollah Pourjavady

O Lord, it’s me: blanked out in divine light
and become a horizon of rays flashing from the Essence.

My every atom yearned for vision
till I fell drunk on the manifestations of lordship.

Love polished the rust from my heart’s mirror
till I began to see the mysteries;

I emerged from the darkness of my existence
and became what I am (you know me) from the Light of Being:

blackened like charcoal dark soul’s smoke
but mixed with love fires and illumined.

Some say the path is difficult;
God forgive them! I went so easily:

The Holy Spirit breathes his every breath into Mo’in–
who knows? Maybe I’m the second Jesus.

— from The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry, Translated by Peter Lamborn Wilson / Translated by Nasrollah Pourjavady


/ Image by proama /

I love the phrase in which the poet describes himself as being “blanked in divine light.” This beautifully describes the loss of the ego self, the loss of the separate self. Instead we perceive ourselves as a point of awareness within a vast living radiance.

Another great line:

Some say the path is difficult;
God forgive them! I went so easily.

This reflects the sense that true spiritual striving must be crushingly difficult, and sometimes too vague to even comprehend. Yet, the sacred experience reveals itself as our natural state, effortless. In fact, effort implies that we are trying to attain something we don’t already have, making it even harder to recognize the state as being already present. We just have to get out of the way of the truth that is already present. That is all. We just make it seem difficult.

who knows? Maybe I’m the second Jesus.

Some Christians may be troubled by this final line. It is certainly provocative, but not necessarily intended to be blasphemous or offensive. Devout Muslims greatly revere the figure of Jesus but not in the absolute and iconic way that Christians do. In Muslim traditions, Jesus is often associated with the breath of God. This is why the reference to Jesus follows the recognition that the breath of the Holy Spirit flows uninhibited through him. That breath is there, so is Jesus. Gharib Nawaz is reveling in the giddy recognition of oneness with that subtle divine flowing Presence — the same as in Jesus, the same as in all of us.

Who knows, maybe we are all the second Jesus?


Recommended Books: Gharib Nawaz

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry


Gharib Nawaz

Iran/Persia & India (1142? – 1236?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 02 2018

Theory and debate

Theory and debate can never satisfy
the seeking heart.

2 responses so far

Jan 31 2018

Kalidasa – Exhortation of the Dawn

Published by under Poetry

Exhortation of the Dawn
by Kalidasa

English version by W. S. Merwin & J. Moussaieff Masson

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

— from Sanskrit Love Poetry, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by J. Moussaieff Masson


/ Image by Livin-Lively /

Now that’s the way to approach the day!

But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!


Recommended Books: Kalidasa

Sanskrit Love Poetry Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa The Recognition of Sakuntala: A Play in Seven Acts Theatre of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa The Origin of the Young God: Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava


Kalidasa, Kalidasa poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Kalidasa

India (350? – 430?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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Jan 31 2018

blank page

Instead of memorizing the words of scripture,
become the blank page
that effortlessly displays them.

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