Jan 12 2016

Rainer Maria Rilke – A Walk

Published by under Poetry

A Walk
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Robert Bly

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance–

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

— from Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Robert Bly


/ Image by Sergiba /

My eyes already touch the sunny hill,
going far ahead of the road I have begun.

This is a fascinating truth that we tend to forget in the hard materiality of the modern world-view: We do not only touch the things with which we come into physical contact. We are often just as profoundly affected by what we see, even when it is out of our reach or not yet within our reach in the physical sense. Sight is a form of touch. It is contact. We touch, and are touched by, what we see.

Rilke’s insight invites us to expand our understanding further still. If what we see with our eyes is a vital sort of contact, then, naturally, what we see, but not with our eyes is just as vital. What we imagine, what we daydream, what we plan, what comes to us in dreams and meditative vision, these touch us too. They affect us. We react to them. They nurture us, feed us, or they may unsettle us and break our hearts.

So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has its inner light, even from a distance–

Real touch is not about fingertips on skin or hard metal or stacks of money. Real touch is heart to heart, mind to mind. Real touch is a process within the awareness, not about dense matter encountering more dense matter.

What we seek is never what we seek, but the affect it has on us. With everything we seek, what we actually seek is self-transformation. And, of course, that transformed self is already within us, just awaiting our own permission to be that. That is why Rilke says–

and changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are…

Whether we yearn for a beloved person or place or circumstance, that encounter always awaits us within.

a gesture waves us on,
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

We can read his final lines as suggesting something about the ephemeral nature of reality, or it can be the dawning recognition that we are continuously receiving communication, encouragement, contact, we have just been missing it because of our fixed ideas about what we seek and what is real.

Sending love to you in this new year…


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus
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Jan 12 2016

moments

The slow realization
of a lifetime lived with attention:
the satisfaction of simple moments.

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Dec 17 2015

Teresa of Avila – You are Christ’s Hands

Published by under Poetry

You are Christ’s Hands
by Teresa of Avila (attributed)

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
      no hands but yours,
      no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
      Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
      doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

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


/ Image by batega /

With Christmas coming up, I thought this might be a poem one to contemplate. While this poem is popularly attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, it is not among her officially recognized works.

Whether this was composed by Teresa of Avila herself or by an anonymous Christian poet, this is one of my favorite prayer-poems. It is a prayer of supreme spiritual maturity. It is not someone imploring Christ to come and fix everything in the external way imagined by so many fundamentalist sects; rather, it recognizes the presence of the Divine within each of us and our sacred responsibility to embody that compassion and service within the world. Each one of us is the vehicle through which Christ (or Ishwara or the Buddha) enacts blessings in the world. Our job is to let that sacred current flow through us unhindered.

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now…

Whether you celebrate Christmas or recently celebrated Hanukkah or are readying for the Solstice — or simply watching as the light to renew itself amidst the darkness of winter — may this be a special time for you. And may the light in your life bring light and hope to others.


Recommended Books: Teresa of Avila

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
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Dec 17 2015

miracle

A miracle isn’t an event or an experience.
It is a moment of recognition:
We glimpse the wider reality,
and what we witness washes us away.

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Dec 16 2015

Mechthild of Magdeburg – A fish cannot drown in water

Published by under Poetry

A fish cannot drown in water
by Mechthild of Magdeburg

English version by Jane Hirshfield

A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

— from The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell


/ Image by kopita /

In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.

Aren’t those wonderful lines? We have a tendency to be overwhelmed by the intensity of life… the “fire of creation.” In that overwhelm we often have a self-protective psychic reflex to wall out the things and experiences we label as painful. We create a mental separation and tell ourselves, “This is me. And that out there is the pain.” That’s natural, right? In extreme cases, maybe it’s even necessary — in the moment.

The problem with that in the long term is that, over time, as we live and experience more, we wall off more and more until we inhabit a fragmented psychic landscape. And, in that fragmentation, we lose the vision of unity. This is how God seems to “vanish” in the fire of creation. This is how we lose our connection with the fundamental ground of being and forget our true nature.

BUT- through spiritual practice, through deep self-acceptance, through fearless observation, those psychic walls come tumbling down. And then, all at once, the vision comes, and we are overwhelmed with its brightness!

Like a fish in water and a bird in the air, the Eternal lives and moves through all of creation. Material reality is the medium of expression for the Immaterial. It is That, and nothing less, which is the all-pervading animating warmth and life of all things. When we rediscover it, all of creation shines.

How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?

So often spiritual seekers struggle with the question of how to find God, how to get to heaven, how to attain salvation, or enlightenment, or true yoga… What are they really? Do they even have value in ‘real life’? But Mechthild reminds us that it is our very nature to seek that unity. The real key is to simply stop resisting our nature. Seekers strive, but saints get out of the way.


Recommended Books: Mechthild of Magdeburg

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others The Mystic in Love: A Treasury of Mystical Poetry
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Dec 16 2015

recognize enlightenment

You don’t acquire enlightenment;
you recognize it.

No responses yet

Dec 16 2015

Favorite Christmas CDs

Published by under Music

Here are some favorite Christmas CDs I’ve been listening to this year:

Handel’s Messiah
Still elevates my spirit every time I listen. To me, this music still evokes something holy about Christmas.

Nutrcracker Suite
The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy perfectly captures that quiet, barely contained excitement of Christmas Eve.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, by The Vince Guaraldi Trio
Skating evokes that sleepy wintertime magic. Linus and Lucy. Schroeder’s Fur Elise.

A Charlie Brown Christmas, by Cyrus Chestnut & Friends
Takes Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas music and adds some spice and playfulness. Skating played on harmonica. Fur Elise as samba.

Downe in yon Forrest, by Kemper Crabb
Medieval and Renaissance Christmas music with a speedy tempo and a some unexpected flair. This one has grown on me to become a real favorite.

Noel, by Joan Baez
Joan Baez’s soaring voice singing Christmas carols. Christmas Eve, with a lit candle, listening to Noel — a perfect moment.

— What are you listening to this year?

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Dec 08 2015

Ryokan – Thinking

Published by under Poetry

Thinking
by Ryokan

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd’s purse.
Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.

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


/ Image by digicla /

I really like the way this poem opens…

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd’s purse.

Ryokan recognizes how thoughts grow tired of themselves and can finally fall silent. In silence, he enters the woods—a recluse, wrapped in quiet, moving slowly among the trees in search of his simple meal of wild herbs.

This is the part that really awakens:

Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.

He has movement, yes, but it is effortless flow. His entire life at that moment is transparent, completely clear, free from self and the silting of mind.

The poet’s entrance into the poem and disappearance into the woods creates a vacuum that draws us in after him. The whole poem is an invitation, leaving us with the question… Shall we, too, slip into the woods?


Recommended Books: Ryokan

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing
More Books >>


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Dec 08 2015

pure honesty

Pure, compassionate,
and devastating honesty
with yourself
is the only way.

No responses yet

Dec 04 2015

Rabindranath Tagore – Ever in my life have I sought thee with my songs

Published by under Poetry

Ever in my life have I sought thee with my songs (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

Ever in my life have I sought thee with my songs. It was they who led me from door to door, and with them have I felt about me, searching and touching my world.
      It was my songs that taught me all the lessons I ever learnt; they showed me secret paths, they brought before my sight many a star on the horizon of my heart.
      They guided me all the day long to the mysteries of the country of pleasure and pain, and, at last, to what palace gate have they brought me in the evening at the end of my journey?

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by Jomina /

I don’t know that there’s much commentary to add to this wonderful verse from Tagore’s Gitanjali. It suggests to me that poetry, the singing of songs, is a rich spiritual pathway in itself. The heightened observation, the dance of words, the flow of meaning behind the words, the flow of breath, the rhythm of the heart, and the soft silence beneath it all… We are carried door to door, guided to the mysteries, and, at last, to the palace gate…

=

The world is feeling its traumas this week. Two new mass shootings in the US, and the devastating flood in Chennai, India, among other heartbreaking events. Behind the suffering of all of these events are broken politics and social entrenchment.

What is the good of art, or poetry, or spirituality itself, when action toward social change is required? Whenever we seek change, that change must always be in service to a vision. Artists and spiritual seekers are the visionaries in society. Without our poets and prophets, change just becomes a blind game of power politics. A society that doesn’t honor its artists and spiritual visionaries lacks illumination and direction. Poetry, art, and spiritual exploration are absolutely essential in the positive evolution of society.

So read a poem. Meditate. Pray. Then figure out what is to be done.

And have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
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Dec 04 2015

meaningful

Words aren’t inherently meaningful;
they are the ornaments
that accompany the flow of awareness.

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Dec 02 2015

Czeslaw Milosz – On Angels

Published by under Poetry

On Angels
by Czeslaw Milosz

All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you,
messengers.

There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice — no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures,
weightless and winged (after all, why not?),
girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draw near
another one
do what you can.

— from Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, Edited by Carolyn Forche


/ Image by pareeerica /

This poem raises some interesting questions about the “modern” worldview as it wrestles with angels, and spiritual realities in general.

In the opening verse, although Milosz asserts that he believes in the “messengers” or angels, it’s also speaks from a thoroughly modern viewpoint. First, he points out the process of demythologizing, the stripping away of tangibility from the notion of angels in modern consciousness: “All was taken away from you: white dresses, / wings, even existence.”

When Milosz proclaims “Yet I believe in you, messengers,” he knows he is making a bold statement. Because of modern sensibilities, it is assumed that one does not believe in angels, at least not publicly among intellectuals. What would have been, in past centuries, a bland statement of belief, reads as startlingly sincere, maybe even intentionally naive in a modern poem.

The following verse is clearly influenced by 20th century notions of psychology and contemporary self-awareness:

They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for the humans invented themselves as well.

In the modern worldview, angels have been relegated to neurotic Freudian projections. Or, more generously, they might be thought of as universal Jungian archetypes. But they are no longer allowed to live and breathe outside the human psyche.

And the line–

weightless and winged (after all, why not?)

–that’s modern too. Questioning the literalness of wings on angels, playfully accepting the notion with the obvious assumption that most modern people would not. Even the parenthetic construction, the way it causes us as readers to stumble for a moment and pick our way through the line more carefully, that also reflects modern sensibility.

Yet, he offers us a subtler and, I think, more profound understanding of angels: not winged, robed titans of the sky and history who appear with trumpets blaring, but instead something ephemeral, delicate, all too easily missed. For him, they are the presence that rides in upon living moments and touch a hidden part of ourselves…

Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,
in a melody repeated by a bird…

Although Czeslaw Milosz is a modern poet writing for a modern audience, what isn’t modern is his internal quiet. The modern mind is too often caught in staccato details, yet gently filling this entire poem is a sense of rest, self-acceptance, wholeness, even timelessness. This poem quietly glows.

When we adopt Milosz’s stillness and learn to truly pay attention, we might just feel the brush of angel wings “in the smell of apples at close of day / when the light makes the orchards magic.”


Recommended Books: Czeslaw Milosz

New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001 The Collected Poems Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness To Begin Where I Am: The Selected Prose of Czeslaw Milosz A Treatise on Poetry
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Dec 02 2015

faith is technique

Faith is not belief;
it is technique.

No responses yet

Nov 25 2015

Han-shan (Cold Mountain) – Above Cold Mountain

Published by under Poetry

Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone
by Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

English version by Red Pine

Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone
in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all
precious heavenly priceless jewel
buried in the skandhas submerged in the body

— from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain, Translated by Red Pine


/ Image by Temporalvisions /

Something to celebrate this Thanksgiving full moon…

As a young man, Han-shan was apparently part of the privileged civil servant class, but he left his family and wealth at about age thirty to take up the life of a hermit poet, settling in a remote cave beneath a rocky overhang. It was from this natural retreat that Han-shan took his name, which means Cold Mountain or Cold Cliff.

Since Cold Mountain is Han-Shan’s name translated into English as well as the place where he lived, when he says “Above Cold Mountain the moon shines alone” it has a double meaning: He could be describing a moment in nature being observed, but he is also saying that the moon is shining above himself.

The moon, especially the full moon, has a specific metaphoric meaning in the sacred poetry of Asia. It is often used to represent the fully awakened awareness, Buddha-mind. So this poem can be read as a declaration of enlightenment. This is made doubly clear in the final lines where he says that this “heavenly… jewel” is “submerged in the body.” That is, his real subject is the “moon” of enlightenment found within.

To say that the moon “shines alone” might suggest the recognition that there is nothing other than that enlightenment. This is a nondualist statement, understood to be saying there is only Buddha-mind, only enlightenment, and nothing else truly exists.

I especially like the second line:

in a clear sky it illuminates nothing at all.

We might think of the sky is the mind, the canvas of awareness. When it is clear, the mind is free from thoughts, free from fluctuations and distracting movement. The mind is no longer agitated or trying to force reality into mental forms. Instead it finally sees reality unfiltered.

But, in that clear sky, the moon, the light of enlightenment, “illuminates nothing at all.” The moon that shines down on Han-Shan shines on nothing. In that moment of pure illumination, he recognizes the nonexistence of the objects of the mind. The only reality is the illumination itself. There is only the moon, quietly, blissfully shining…

He shifts the imagery and begins to use more technical language in the next two lines. The moon shining in the sky is now described as a “heavenly priceless jewel” that is hidden or buried in the body and something called the “skandhas.”

This might need a little extra explanation. The five skandhas, according to Buddhist thought, are the five aspects that make up a sentient being. They are material form, sensation, perception, mental tendencies, and cognition. While these allow for basic perception, understanding, and interaction with the world, they also limit the full and open awareness. They tend to reinforce the illusion of tangibility, a false idea of self, and they create attachment to an ephemeral and continuously changing phenomenal reality. All of this, in turn, leads to confusion and suffering.

But, here is their secret: Hidden within these problematic aspects of mundane consciousness is the glowing nugget, the heavenly jewel of radiant pure awareness.

Notice also the balance Han-shan gives us with these two images of enlightenment: On the one hand, enlightenment is like looking out at the full moon in the clear night sky — expansive, intangible, outward focused; on the other hand, it is discovering a jewel buried within the body and mind — contractive, internal, earthy. It is as if he has painted for us in words an image of Yin and Yang. Enlightenment is really the two recognized as one.


Recommended Books: Han-shan (Cold Mountain)

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry
More Books >>


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Nov 25 2015

expediency

Never accept the logic of expediency
over compassion.
We need a world that’s less efficient
and more humane.

No responses yet

Nov 21 2015

Holiday Poetry Book Recommendations 2015

Yesterday it occurred to me just how quickly the winter holidays are coming: Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Day…

Perhaps a few of the gifts you give this year should wax poetic. Poetry lasts in ways few other gifts can. A really good poem unwraps itself a little more each time it is read, becoming a continuously opening gift to the mind and the heart.





Here is a a holiday sampler to consider as gifts for you and your loved ones:

== Poetry Chaikhana Publications ==

For the modern mystic…

Marrow of the Flame
Poems of the Spiritual Journey
by Dorothy Walters

Introduction by Andrew Harvey

The Poetry Chaikhana’s most recent publication…

Dorothy Walters explores the spiritual journey through its ecstasies, struggles, and vistas. Each step is observed with the keen insight and clear voice of a modern woman who is both a skilled poet and genuine mystic.

Dorothy Walters’s poems are immediate and inviting, transcendent and often playful. Many of these poems are in dialog, with Rumi and Rilke, Denise Levertov and Lalla, each poem contributing its own wisdom and humor to the ongoing conversation that passes between visionaries and sages through history and across cultures.

Marrow of Flame has already become a modern classic among spiritual seekers.

These poems make me gasp. Dorothy Walters–part buddha, part elf–weaves mythic literacy with subversive compassion.” ~ Mirabai Starr

READ MOREPURCHASE

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and wherever books are sold

To satisfy that longing (or awaken it)…

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

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

In many ways this is my most personal publication, combining favorite soul-inspiring poems from the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions, accompanied by the thoughts, meditations, commentary, and occasional tangents that have been central to the Poetry Chaikhana poem emails for years. Selections from Rumi, Whitman, Kabir, Machado, Issa, Teresa of Avila, Dickinson, Blake, Yunus Emre, John of the Cross, Lalla, and many others.

These are poems of seeking and awakening… and the longing in between.

“The Longing in Between is a work of sheer beauty. Ivan M. Granger has done a great service, not only by bringing [these poems] to public attention, but by opening their deeper meaning with his own rare poetic and mystic sensibility.”
~ ROGER HOUSDEN, author of the best-selling Ten Poems to Change Your Life series

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and wherever books are sold

For the modern mystic…

Given: Poems
by Wendell Berry

Few modern poets manage to view the world with the patient eye Berry does when contemplating the purposes of life, death, and the slow pulse of the natural world. This is a favorite collect, with his Sabbath poems, several haiku and short poems. A book to savor on a slow Sunday afternoon.

Why I Wake Early
By Mary Oliver

You can’t go wrong with anything by Mary Oliver, but if you’re looking for a good introduction to her poetry, Why I Wake Early is a good place to start. This collection is one to enjoy, one poem at a time, in those quiet moments before the busyness of the day starts.





For illumination…

The Illuminated Rumi
Translations by Coleman Barks
Art by Michael Green

Excerpts of Rumi’s poetry accompanied by amazing digital collage artwork that draws you deeply into each page. This book entrances on several levels. An excellent gift book.





For the wise woman…

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women
Edited by Jane Hirshfield

This is the first anthology I got years ago that made me say, Wow! Includes Sappho, Rabia, Yeshe Tsogyel, Hildegard von Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Lalla, Mirabai, Bibi Hayati, Marina Tsvetaeva. The best collection I’ve found of women’s voices in sacred poetry.

The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry
Edited by Aliki Barnstone

Another very good anthology of spiritual poetry by women, from ancient to modern times. Poets like Mirabai, Mahadevi, Lal Ded, Sappho, Sun Buer, Dickenson, Tsvetaeva. The two books together — this with Women in Praise of the Sacred — make a good collection.

For Nourishment…

Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds
Edited by Neil Astley and Pamela Robertson-Pearce

I came across this collection by accident, through a random recommendation on the Internet — and it has quickly become a favorite! A rich, tasty mixture of poetry by ancient and modern visionaries, from Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry to Kabir and Dogen, and several you may not have heard of before. Open to any page and discover a new treasure.





A Sampling of Sufi Wisdom…

The Shambhala Guide to Sufism
By Carl W. Ernst, Ph.D.

Not a collection of poetry, but good book to help you begin to understand who the Sufis really are. An intelligent, insightful look at the history, practices, philosophies, schools, and even politics of Sufism. If you’ve loved the poetry of Rumi but only have a vague idea of how Sufism fits within the Islamic faith, this book is a good place to start.

Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching Stories of the Sufi Masters over the Past Thousand Years
By Idries Shah

Short wisdom stories from the Sufi tradition that surprise with unexpected insight, delightful humor, and enigmatic conclusions that invite deeper contemplation. I have been rereading this favorite collection for years.

Travelling the Path of Love: Sayings of Sufi Masters
Edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee has gathered together an excellent collection of short sayings and poetic excerpts from many of the great Sufi masters throughout the centuries. Gathered together in themed chapters, such as The Longing of the Heart, The Path, Mediatation and Prayer, and The Valley of Love. Open this book to any page late at night and find a hidden gem to contemplate.

For the Christian contemplative…

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

This has quickly become one of my favorite collections of sacred poetry within the many Christian traditions. John of the Cross, Merton, Hildegard von Bingen, Gibran, Dante, Meister Eckhart, Blake… and Roger Housden’s brief, thoughtful insights.

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton
by Thomas Merton

I can’t recommend this collection highly enough. Merton, in addition to being a deep mystic, was a truly excellent contemporary poet. His poems feel entirely modern, yet touch on the eternal. While drawing on Catholic imagery, one can hear whispers of Eastern philosophy and insight in his words. Poems to reread and meditate deeply upon.





For the Jewish mystic…

The Poetry of Kabbalah: Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition
Translated and Annotated by Peter Cole

Finally we have a truly excellent collection of sacred Jewish poetry. While T. Carmi’s Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse is more comprehensive, Cole’s The Poetry of Kabbalah has more of a poet’s sense of language and even catches of few sparks from the mystic’s fire. This is poetry that startles and transports. The Poetry of Kabbalah has become my favorite source for Jewish mystical poetry in English. Very highly recommended.





A little Zen in your pocket…

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter
Edited by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

A good collection without being overwhelming. I especially like it’s selection of Japanese haiku: Basho, Buson, Issa, Masahide…

Haiku Enlightenment
By Gabriel Rosenstock

This book is an excellent sampling of haiku, traditional and modern, and, at the same time a wise and playful exploration of the essence of haiku insight. A bit pricey for this slim volume, but enthusiastically recommended for meditators, writers, and haiku enthusiasts. Also look for its companion volume Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing.





For the Rilke lover…

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
Translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

There are several very good translations of Rilke available, but I’ve slowly come to the opinion that Barrows and Macy, more than any others, get the tone just right. Their Rilke translations glow and uplift, but without losing the shadows that also haunt the spaces between his words. Perfect!

In the Company of Rilke
by Stephanie Dowrick

A lovely, insightful meditation of the poetry of Rilke and why it speaks so powerfully to us today. The perfect companion book to pair with your favorite Rilke collection.

Artist, Therapist, Shaman…

Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making
By John Fox

Not a book of poetry, but a book that belongs on every poetry lover’s bookshelf. This is a book about the transformational nature of poetry – reading it, speaking it, writing it. Poetry as therapy. Poetry as a pathway to self-exploration. Poetry to rediscover your true voice. I was surprised how much I liked this book.





Lover and the Beloved…

For Love of the Dark One: Songs of Mirabai
Translated by Andrew Schelling

Andrew Schelling’s translations embody that tension between heartbreak and ecstasy that runs through all of Mirabai’s poetry. These poems can be read as love poems or as spiritual poems — but, of course, they are both.

Love’s Alchemy: Poems of the Sufi Tradition
Translated by David and Sabrineh Fideler

Another very good collection of Persian Sufi poetry. This book focuses on poems and poets that are not as well known in the West. A good place to discover some new names.

Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyan: A Spiritual Interpretation
by Omar Khayyam
Commentary by Paramahansa Yogananda

A 20th century Indian Yogi commenting on the spiritual meaning of an 11th century Persian Sufi’s poetry. That combination yields both perfume and controversy — but plenty to contemplate. Lovely artwork and border scrollwork. And Fitzgerald’s delightful translation of this classic. Recommended.

Transcendent Hindu verses…

Speaking of Siva
Translated by A. K. Ramanujan

This book became an immediate favorite of mine ever since I picked up a copy of it a few years ago. Stunning poems from the Shiva bhakti tradition of India. Basava, Devara Dasimayya, Akka Mahadevi, Allama Prabhu. The commentary in the book, though a little academic, is genuinely insightful. Enthusiastically recommended!

I, Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded
Translated by Ranjit Hoskote

There are several translations of the poetry of Lalla available in English now, good ones too, but Ranjit Hoskote’s versions are my favorite. They seem to marry a love of the original language with a poet’s sense of English, without ever losing the mystic’s fire at the center of each poem. Recommended.

And for blessings…

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
by John O’Donohue

I keep being told by people how much they love this book of poetic blessings from the Irish philosopher, poet, and mystic, John O’Donohue. These poetically crafted blessings and meditations on the passages of life manage to elevate the spirit, warm the heart, and, on occasion, bring a tear to the eye.

For even more book recommendations, click here.

(I let the list get a little long this year, but, even so, I had to leave off so many amazing books. The drawback to loving so much poetry.)





Let’s remember that, in the midst of winter’s dark, this is the time to renew the light — within ourselves and our world. Regardless of religion, may we recognize our shared brotherhood and sisterhood within the human family, all within the lap of the generous green earth that is our home.

I hope you and your loved ones have a special holiday season —

— and that the new year brings you bright blessings!

Ivan

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Nov 15 2015

Sachal Sarmast – Friend, this is the only way

Published by under Poetry

Friend, this is the only way
by Sachal Sarmast

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Friend, this is the only way
to learn the secret way:

      Ignore the paths of others,
      even the saints’ steep trails.

            Don’t follow.
            Don’t journey at all.

Rip the veil from your face.

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


/ Image by TRAILSOURCE.COM /

I know the terrible bombings in Paris and Beirut are weighing heavily on all of our hearts right now.

Here is something I wrote in 2010 in response to another religiously motivated terrorist attack that killed several dozen people at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan. I thought it would be meaningful to share again at this moment.

Islamic extremists have certainly grabbed headlines in recent years, but the world also has its Christian extremists, Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists… as well as plenty of atheist and non-religious extremist groups. Extremism is not a problem of a particular religion; it is a disruption in the human psyche in general.

Religious extremism has very little to do with religion, if you think about it. It is partly a reflexive response to the intensely fragmenting nature of the modern world. And it is partly a reaction against unavoidable, sometimes unsettling encounters with different peoples and cultures and beliefs in our ever more integrated and multi-layered world. But mostly—mostly it is an act of desperation when the heart of true religion has been lost. People become violently obsessed with rules and traditions and texts only when they have lost the sense of what they really point to.

If you know where the Beloved lives, you are content, no need to argue with others over street names. Conflict only arises when you aren’t so certain you know the way; that’s when another person’s map threatens your certainty. Fundamentalism and extremism are an admission of that spiritual uncertainty. Absolutism is not an expression of faith; it is a symptom of the lack of faith. It is a symptom of the lack of true spiritual experience and knowledge.

The real long-term solution to the problem of violent religious extremism in the world is to reawaken that sweet, secret, sacred bliss within ourselves, to gently and generously share it with others, and to create environments nurturing to that continuing quest. The more we fill the world’s dry troughs with fresh water, the less likely it is that people will go insane with blind thirst.


Recommended Books: Sachal Sarmast

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Sachal Sarmast: Sindhi Poet Yaar di Gharoli / Kaafi – Sachal Sarmast: From Songs of the Mystics (mp3 song) The Story of Melting: Sachal Sarmast’s Persian Masnavi Gudaz-nama


Sachal Sarmast, Sachal Sarmast poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Sachal Sarmast

Pakistan/India (1739 – 1829) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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