Feb 24 2016

spend a lifetime

We can spend a lifetime
looking, traveling, and acquiring.
Or we can look in the mirror.

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Feb 12 2016

Rasakhan – Nectar Radha

Published by under Poetry

Nectar Radha
by Rasakhan

English version by Shyamdas

When Radha’s eyes bashfully meet Hari’s,
      their delightful gestures
            entice His heart.

Her enchanting banter swindles His mind.
      Her words divulge an exquisite disposition.

She puts Her lips to His,
      filling that Abode of elixir
            with the nectar of Her very soul.

Although Krishna is an expert in all of love’s spells,
      Radha captivates God
            with a few soft syllables.

— from Treasure House of Love: Poems of Rasakhan, Translated by Shyamdas


/ Image by Vishnu108 /

How about some bhakti verses in honor of Valentine’s Day?

As with many bhakti poems, this is, on the surface, a poem of lovers, Radha and Krishna (also referred to as Hari). But these, like the Song of Songs in the Bible, are usually understood to reflect deeper spiritual truths. Radha is the soul, the spiritual seeker. Krishna is the one the soul seeks, the eternal Beloved, God. Radha’s yearning and seeking is the spiritual journey. Their love play is spiritual union.

Most bhakti poems dwell on how Krishna’s enchanting beauty draws Radha (the soul) to him. God/Krishna is, after all, “an expert in all of love’s spells,” for all sincere seekers are in love with the Divine One. In truth, every soul, no matter how closed off, has a deep-seated hunger for something, and that yearning, whether recognized or not, is ultimately for the eternal Beloved. Every single being is caught up in Krisnha’s love spell.

But these lines by Rasakhan point out that there is a reciprocal attraction, as well. The soul doesn’t just reach out to the Divine. Turning eager eyes toward the Beloved magnetically draws the Divine to the individual soul, as well. When done with total sincerity and with one’s full, unedited being, a response from the Beloved becomes unavoidable.

In this way, “Radha captivates God / with a few soft syllables.” The soul and God draw each other, the two becoming enfolded within their mutual love.

Have a beautiful Valentine’s Day with your beloved / Beloved.


Recommended Books: Rasakhan

Treasure House of Love: Poems of Rasakhan


Rasakhan

India (1534? – 1619?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 12 2016

all the way

Enlightenment all the way to enlightenment.

No responses yet

Feb 10 2016

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Fasting

Published by under Poetry

Fasting
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you’re full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon’s ring. Don’t give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,
Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast, this table
spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.

— from The Illuminated Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks / Michael Green


/ Image by bennylin0724 /

I featured this poem and commentary a few years ago, but I thought it would be appropriate to send it out again today since it is Ash Wednesday — a Muslim poem on fasting in solidarity with all of my Christian friends beginning Lent.

There’s hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.

Fasting is something we’re not too comfortable with in the affluent West. Even though all religious traditions, including Christianity and Judaism, have rich, ancient traditions of fasting, we often don’t have a real sense of what spirituality has to do with food — or its avoidance. We tend to take a rather intellectual approach to spirituality. Even in modern New Age teachings, we have the notion that all we have to do is change our thinking and transformation occurs. But the results of that approach are often spotty. One reason is that mind is much more than thoughts, and transforming the mind requires deeper work. Thoughts are built on ingrained energetic patterns. For real transformation to occur, we have to get down to those foundational patterns. Very often this requires not merely changing one’s thoughts, but tunneling beneath them. This is the purpose of deeper spiritual practice.

Fasting is a simple, universal, and powerful way to clear the mind and confront those more fundamental energies in the awareness.

But why? What does food have to do with any of this? We are not two things, a mind separate from a body, or even a mind that inhabits a body. The mind and body interpenetrate one another. If your body is injured, that physical pain demands attention, affecting the awareness. The state of the body impacts the clarity and focus of the mind. Feeding the body pure, healthy foods in general, and periodically allowing it to rest from the tiring work of digestion can profoundly free up energies for the awareness to tap into.

Here’s something else you won’t hear much: Food is a drug. Every food is a narcotic. Does that sound bizarre to you? I don’t mean that normal foods are literally hallucinogenic. But every single thing you put into your mouth affects consciousness in some way. We use food to control emotions. We use food to shift moods and change awareness. Think of the instinct to grab a pint of ice cream from the freezer after a terrible breakup. Everything, even a salad, affects consciousness in some way. The resulting psychic shift after eating something can be relatively positive or relatively negative. It can help us to feel solid and grounded or expanded and open. It can tantalize the senses and flood us with feelings of satiation or leave us frustrated. None of this is necessarily bad, but we must understand how profoundly food affects awareness, and utilize food wisely… and sometimes not consume food at all.

A fascinating thing happens when you fast as part of a spiritual practice: After you ease past the initial psychic tension and your body moves through any initial discomforts — the mind naturally settles and grows quiet. So much of the agitation of the mind arises from the foods we eat.

Recognizing this, food and fasting become an important part of spiritual practice.

The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.

The first few times I tried to do just a one day fast, I was frankly terrified. I knew intellectually that a healthy human body can go for days without food, no problem. Many times in the past I had forgotten to eat breakfast, and it was no big deal, but on a day when I intentionally decided to fast, I’d be sweating and panicky by mid-morning. It took me a while to understand that fasting, even a mild fast, is a confrontation with death. It is the willingness to temporarily abandon that constant hunt to satisfy every desire by attempting to slough off the fundamental hunger for food. How do you just have a desire and sit with it, without attempting to immediately satisfy it? That’s a pretty frightening question, when you really ask it.

With a little practice, you discover that what we often assume is physical hunger is actually mental hunger. For well-fed Westerners, it can take days, literally days, for true physical hunger to arise. The hunger we feel when we miss a couple of meals is really just mental habit, the reflexive desire to use food in order to regulate consciousness and control emotion. Follow that reflex to its root, and we find it originating from the ever-fearful ego, which is endlessly attempting to reinforce its fragile construction of a limited self inside a limited world by keeping the mind perpetually agitated.

Fasting, used carefully, with balance, and as part of a larger spiritual practice, becomes a way to help identify and unseat the despotic ego.

This is why fasting is practiced in all religions. And you don’t even have to have a religious “faith.” Just try it sometime, for a day, for half a day, wrestle your way through, and see what happens in you.

Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.


Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Open Secret: Versions of Rumi
More Books >>


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

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

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Feb 10 2016

political

Spiritual awakening
is the fundamental political act.
Awareness spreads outward
into the world.

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Feb 05 2016

A. R. Ammons – Poetics

Published by under Poetry

Poetics
by A. R. Ammons

I look for the way
things will turn
out spiraling from a center,
the shape
things will take to come forth in

so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
wind-glittering
totally its apparent self:

I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will
unfold:

not the shape on paper — though
that, too — but the
uninterfering means on paper:

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

— from Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971, by A. R. Ammons


/ Image by Randy Son Of Robert /

I look for the way
things will turn
out spiraling from a center…

This poem is a delightful meditation on how form emerges “spiraling from a center” of essential nature.

I look for the forms
things want to come as

from what black wells of possibility,
how a thing will
unfold:

Form is the expression of a more subtle foundation. Ammons is using the world of color and shape as an exercise for the awareness, a way of looking at the outer to discover the inner.

Looking at the world this way, a stillness settles on us, and we begin to see the stillness of things, even in their movement. And we start to recognize how shape and color both hide and reveal the true nature of things.

so that the birch tree white
touched black at branches
will stand out
wind-glittering
totally its apparent self:

Looking at the world this way, the perceptual wall between ourselves and what we witness fades away, and we become something new, bigger, open, a collective unity, “the self not mine but ours”…

not so much looking for the shape
as being available
to any shape that may be
summoning itself
through me
from the self not mine but ours.

Wonderful!


Recommended Books: A. R. Ammons

Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971 Brink Road: Poems Selected Poems A Coast of Trees: Poems by A R Ammons Uplands: New Poems by A R Ammons
More Books >>


A. R. Ammons, A. R. Ammons poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry A. R. Ammons

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by A. R. Ammons

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Feb 05 2016

inner glow

Meditation, prayer, quiet —

These train your eyes to see
by the inner glow.

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Feb 03 2016

Jacopone da Todi – Love, where did You enter the heart unseen?

Published by under Poetry

Love, where did You enter the heart unseen? (from In Praise of Divine Love)
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

Love, where did You enter the heart unseen?
Lovable Love, joyful Love, unthinkable Love,
In Your plenitude You lie far beyond the reach of reason.

Love, jocund and joyous,
Divine fire, You do not stint
Of your endlessly beautiful riches.

— from Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality), Translated by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes


/ Image by eggybird /

In these lines, the word “Love” almost becomes a chant: “Lovable Love, joyful Love, unthinkable Love…” The phrases invite repetition, circling round and round in the awareness until they lead to the very subject which they praise.

And what a delightful phrase: — “Love, jocund and joyous.” Those words roll around on the tongue like melting chocolate.

There are several key phrases here that particularly grab my attention:

Love, where did You enter the heart unseen?

In states of deep spiritual communion, when the agitations of the mind are at rest and the attention is not seeking outward distractions, all awareness settles into the heart, touching everything without the need to reach out to do so. It is an experience of expansiveness without movement, of absolute contentment and interconnection… and an experience of all-encompassing love.

What is often surprising is the recognition that this inner heart, this spiritual heart has always been at rest in this profound state of love, even though we somehow have spent years not recognizing it. It is as if a thief has stolen unseen into the heart, but riches are given rather than taken. Treasures are suddenly scattered everywhere through the heart — even far into the forgotten past.

Love, jocund and joyous…

A giddy joy comes upon us in the ecstatic state, felt especially as a spreading warmth upon the heart. This is greater and, at the same time subtler, than what is normally called happiness. Happiness is sharp-edged and fleeting, but this joy is filled with peace and completely independent of external circumstances. This quiet bliss is steady and radiant.

Divine fire, You do not stint…

In deep spiritual ecstasy, there is often a sense of heat — filled with immense love — that permeates the body. This is such a wonderful fire that mystics often describe it as the flame of love.

This love is not some philosophical notion, it’s not some passing emotion, it is simply, inexplicably there, quietly glowing within each heart, waiting to be discovered.

Lovable Love, joyful Love, unthinkable Love…


PS- Do you want in on a secret? I have quietly begun work on a new Poetry Chaikhana anthology. I hope to have it ready for you this summer.

Actually, I am also thinking of putting together a small book of the ‘Thought for the Day’ sayings, as well. What do you think? Will that make a good book?


Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality) All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time


Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti), Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti) poetry, Christian poetry Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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8 responses so far

Feb 03 2016

mystic’s awareness

The mystic’s awareness
does not sift reality,
it bathes in it.

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Jan 27 2016

Mary Oliver – The Lark

Published by under Poetry

The Lark
by Mary Oliver

And I have seen,
at dawn,
the lark
spin out of the long grass

and into the pink air —
its wings,
which are neither wide
nor overstrong,

fluttering —
the pectorals
ploughing and flashing
for nothing but altitude —

and the song
bursting
all the while
from the red throat.

And then he descends,
and is sorry.
His little head hangs
and he pants for breath

for a few moments
among the hoops of the grass,
which are crisp and dry,
where most of his living is done —

and then something summons him again
and up he goes,
his shoulders working,
his whole body almost collapsing and floating

to the edges of the world.
We are reconciled, I think,
to too much.
Better to be a bird, like this one —

an ornament of the eternal.
As he came down once, to the nest of the grass,
“Squander the day, but save the soul,”
I heard him say.

— from What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by kkart /

Something about those closing lines brings a smile to my face:

“Squander the day, but save the soul,”
I heard him say.

It reminds me of Whitman’s great line: “I loaf and invite my soul.”

A reminder for us all today from the simple wisdom of the lark to be at ease in the timeless. That God-self in each one of us, it is recognized in deep peace, not in our endless doings…

Remember to do a little wise squandering today! 🙂


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light American Primitive What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems
More Books >>


Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Mary Oliver

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Jan 27 2016

map

Sacred texts:

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

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Jan 22 2016

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – Rise early at dawn

Published by under Poetry

Rise early at dawn, when our storytelling begins
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

Rise early at dawn, when our storytelling begins.
In the dead of the night, when all other doors are locked,
the door for the Lovers to enter opens.
Be wide awake in the dark when Lovers
begin fluttering around the Beloved’s window,
like homing pigeons arriving with flaming bodies.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian


/ Image by legends2k /

I admit, I may have arisen a little after dawn this morning, but reading these words by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir makes me want to wake up full of energy in the middle of the night. That’s when our storytelling begins.

Actually, let’s not hurry past that reference to storytelling. It’s in the darkness that we tell stories. In a world before electricity or gas lights, nighttime is the end of activity. So we tell stories. Nighttime is when we normally sleep, and dream.

But most of us do this rather passively. We listen to another person’s story. Or in the modern world, perhaps we watch television. We go to sleep, we dream, we wake up, we forget.

Not so for the seeker. The stories we tell ourselves are the stories of the soul, the way the self understands itself. In dreams and stories we reformulate our perception of the world, deepen it. And in doing so the psyche becomes more dynamic and alive to its own possibilities.

Most people imagine life shuts down at night, but a lover knows better. When the rest of the world rests, the lover finds those sweet illicit moments with the Beloved. Even if it’s just a glimpse, a smile through the window’s lattice, that is what the lover lives for. We light up, we catch fire in the night.


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Mystics of Islam
More Books >>


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 22 2016

even our tragedies

The Divine Mother loves so fully
that She fills even our tragedies
with blessings.

No responses yet

Jan 20 2016

Mahmud Shabistari – The Marriage of the Soul

Published by under Poetry

The Marriage of the Soul (from The Secret Rose Garden)
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Florence Lederer

Descending to the earth, that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world
lurks in the elements of nature.

And the soul of man,
who has attained the rightful balance,
becoming aware of this hidden joy,
straightaway is enamored and bewitched.

And from this mystic marriage are born
the poets’ songs, inner knowledge,
the language of the heart, virtuous living,
and the fair child Beauty.

And the Great Soul gives to man as dowry
the hidden glory of the world.

— from The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari, Translated by Florence Lederer / Edited by David Fideler


/ Image by LaurenCalaway /

Descending to the earth, that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world
lurks in the elements of nature.

To dive more deeply into the meaning of these verses, first we need to recognize who “that strange intoxicating beauty of the unseen world” is. Of course, Shabistari is referring to God, the subtle divine presence hidden within the seemingly tangible, concrete world of daily experience.

And the soul of man,
who has attained the rightful balance,
becoming aware of this hidden joy,
straightaway is enamored and bewitched.

As we, through spiritual practice and intelligent yielding, attain “the rightful balance,” we can directly perceive that presence within everything, everywhere, most importantly within ourselves. And, perhaps surprisingly, we discover that it is a “joy.” Accompanying this recognition of the divine presence everywhere is a flood of bliss and delight. How can a lover of God not then be “enamored and bewitched”?

And from this mystic marriage are born
the poets’ songs, inner knowledge,
the language of the heart, virtuous living,
and the fair child Beauty.

I think I particularly like these lines. This is the moment that various traditions refer to as the mystic marriage, the unio mystica — Union. This moment of profoundest Oneness between the individual soul and the universal divine is the root experience of all spirituality. You may be aware that the word “yoga” means to yoke or join… in union, but we forget that the word “religion” itself means to reconnect or rejoin; they are essentially the same word. All of these words speak to us of union. This is the core impulse of every religion and spiritual tradition: The Marriage of the Soul.

That mystic marriage is not just a giddy experience of bliss; something is unlocked within the individual. The mystic perceive oneself and reality differently, but also unexpected gifts and creativity are revealed within the renewed mind. Not uncommonly, mystics begin to write poetry… or, if they have been writing poetry all along, their poetry takes on a new life, a deeper resonance that carries the breath of the mysteries. (This is why there is such an overlap in the ancient world between poetry and mysticism.)

Mystics also speak of “knowledge” or gnosis, but it is not knowledge in the sense of information or data. It is true that one’s intuition may be heightened, but the inner knowledge referred to here is more of a sense of awareness. It is as if one floats in the vast ocean of knowingness. It is more of an all-encompassing recognition of meaning and interrelationship, the sense that this living meaning somehow flows through all of existence, unifying everything in a living self-awareness.

In mystical union, there is less separation between the conscious self and the heart of one’s being. In other words, that union is not just about the connection between the individual and some external sense of God or universal consciousness; all the disparate parts within the individual are unified, as well. It is an interior marriage as much as an exterior marriage. That spiritual union results in an interior harmony — which we might call “the fair child Beauty.”

And the Great Soul gives to man as dowry
the hidden glory of the world.

That pervading beauty and harmony, that creativity and knowledge, that centering within the full self, all of that is the wedding gift the mystic receives, which, in turn, becomes the mystic’s gift to the world.


Recommended Books: Mahmud Shabistari

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


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

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

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Jan 20 2016

stories

The little self is simply
the sum total of all the stories
we tell ourselves.

No responses yet

Jan 15 2016

R. S. Thomas – But the silence in the mind

Published by under Poetry

But the silence in the mind
by R. S. Thomas

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean.
We launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
such ubiquity by remaining still?

— from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, by Roger Housden


/ Image by MindSqueeZe /

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best…

Isn’t this poem delightful in its stillness?

This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean.

I particularly like the image of launching an armada of thoughts out on the bottomless ocean of silent mind.

We launch the armada of
our thoughts on, never arriving.

The silence is so vast that the thoughts can never arrive; they just fade into the misty distances. The image puts proper scale to our thoughts. They are tiny products that barely have substance amidst the great expanse we discover in silence.

The silence is seen, then, not as a negation or emptiness, but an overlooked, all-encompasing dimension of reality and being:

It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins

And it is a challenge to us, a beckoning call…

that calls us out over our
own fathoms.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, when the first personal computers started to become available. And, yes, I was one of those nerdy computer kids, spending hours in front of the computer screen, when I wasn’t down at the neighborhood arcade feeding quarters into Pac Man and Space Invaders. It was a new medium, a new world built of light, different ways to display light, manipulate light, and finding meaning in that light. The mathematics, art, and movement of light were mesmerizing.

But once the giddiness and sense of power wears off, you realize how restless that world is. The human mind, never much at ease in any historical period, now has endless promptings to remain entranced and agitated.

I went through a period when I rejected computers and as many other elements of modern technology as I could. I desperately wanted to find out what it meant to live in the essential state of being human. What did it mean to be human 500 years ago? 5,000 years ago? What is the essential human experience of life and self-awareness?

I began to seek remote places in nature, where I could meditate and fast.

I wanted to discover that “silence in the mind” that brings us–

…within
listening distance of the silence
we call God.

Don’t get me wrong– I’m a modern person, a product of the modern era. I would greatly resent being thrust back into some previous era. I don’t take the freedoms and possibilities of my modern life for granted.

But we so miss having a place in society for silence. We are given very little encouragement to cultivate stillness. More than ever we must fight to create the space for silence in our lives. I feel great love and respect for all you misfits and spiritual revolutionaries out there quietly holding ajar the doorways to silence. You are the hope of the world.

What to do
but draw a little nearer…?

…All this, typed on a computer, sent out over the Internet. (Ivan, still trying to find ways to make light move, yet in ways that inspire peace.)


Recommended Books: R. S. Thomas

For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds R. S. Thomas: Selected Poems R. S. Thomas (Everyman Poetry) R. S. Thomas: Collected Poems 1945-1990
More Books >>


R. S. Thomas, R. S. Thomas poetry, Christian poetry R. S. Thomas

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

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7 responses so far

Jan 15 2016

struggle

It is the struggle to attain spiritual awakening
that makes us strong enough to actually receive it.

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