Nov 25 2013

From moment to moment

Published by under Other Voices,Poetry

I had an unexpected email dialog over the weekend, one I found deeply moving and inspiring. I am still sifting through my thoughts and emotional responses– A reader of the Poetry Chaikhana sent me a poem and a simple, honest discussion of his own death. The clarity and dignity expressed in his poem and accompanying note left me without words.

He has given me permission to share some of it with you.


Thanks for posting such great poetry.

I found “Naked in the Bee-Hive” [by Hakim Sanai] especially poignant since I now sit on my death bed with the condition of pulmonary fibrosis and a plan to fast out soon.

I write this not for your condolences. I accept this as a gift. So I send this note just to share thanks for posting thought-provoking poetry about living, loving and dying – the three most precious and sacred experiences we humans are gifted to have.

Perhaps, someday, the Mystic Poets’ words will guide all of us toward greater peace and love.

With that, I’m sending you my latest effort to express this moment in my life:

Moment of Wonder

it is written:
“…live from moment to moment…”
how is that?
what is the “to”?
is the “from moment” different
than the “to moment”?
is separation so absolute that
I am different from
you are different from
she is different from
they are different from
we are different?
is everything different
from the ultimate beginning
before time was time
and space was space?
what was the stone before
it was the stone?
what was the flower before
it was the flower?
what was the sun before
it was the sun?
who were you before
you were you
or before the earth?
what was this moment before
this moment?
and after?

~ ebj 11/14/2013

…The perspective I’ve come to adopt on life and death have been heavily influenced by the Mystics of history and present times. Through them, and many personal relationships, I have discovered the beauty of living with integrity, mindful that all experience is transient while still inherently meaningful, and serving others through one’s heart can serve us well along our path and help alleviate much of life’s suffering as is illuminated by the First Noble Truth.

With this belief as a guide, I’ve been blessed to experience the ineffable sense of Oneness where death is as sacred as birth along with all forms of conscious experience (perhaps even non-conscious experience!)

In peace and with love along our paths…


My sincere thanks and admiration to ebj for allowing me to share his insight and poetry at this profound moment in his life.

Sending love to ebj and to all of you!


20 responses so far

Nov 22 2013

Rainer Maria Rilke – Want the change

Published by under Poetry

Want the change
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming
a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

— from In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rainer Maria Rilke / Translated by Joanna Macy

/ Photo by wayoftheGoo /

This poem is a lovely meditation on change and transitoriness — as signs of life. It is only those relationships and experiences that move, and evolve, and eventually disappear that are fully alive.

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.

We so want the opposite to be true. We reflexively want to grasp the world, to hold it fixed, so we can trust reality, know its rules, and feel secure every day. But Rilke invites us to see with the poet’s keen eye the truth of the matter: that which doesn’t change lacks life and loses beauty–

What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.

We can’t hold our lives fixed, and we can’t hold ourselves fixed within our lives. The only thing to do is to put ourselves fully into each mysterious day.

I love the line–

Pour yourself out like a fountain.

This statement so powerfully evokes the courage each day requires and the generosity of self that we can bring to each encounter.

We give of ourselves not to secure our lives but to live our lives in fullness. And, in doing so, we discover more life in our lives.

Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

If you’re not a mythology nerd, you may not have picked up on Rilke’s reference to Daphne and the laurel…

And Daphne, becoming
a laurel,
dares you to become the wind.

In Greek mythology, Daphne was a stunningly beautiful nymph who lived and hunted in the woods. Because of her beauty men constantly sought her favors, but she refused everyone. Then the god Apollo fell in love with her, but she refused him as well. Daphne fled from Apollo, who continued to pursue her. When Apollo was about to grasp Daphne, she called upon her father’s magical power, and she was instantly transformed into a laurel tree. The god Apollo, still in love with Daphne, but unable to embrace her, plucked a branch of the laurel and wore it as a wreath upon his head.

By evoking Daphne, Rilke is calling up this rich myth of beauty, and the inability to posses it. Yet that beauty, in transforming itself into something that can no longer be truly held or lusted after, takes on a new life all its own, a life that yet dances, one with the wind.

Rilke seems to be inviting us to encounter life with full presence and, with the courage of a witness rather than one who grasps, to appreciate beauty both in the coming and goings of life.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rainer Maria Rilke

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Nov 22 2013


Balance must be discovered
each day.

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Nov 20 2013

Mansur al-Hallaj – You glide between the heart and its casing

Published by under Poetry

You glide between the heart and its casing
by Mansur al- Hallaj

English version by Bernard Lewis

You glide between the heart and its casing as tears glide from the eyelid.
You dwell in my inwardness, in the depths of my heart, as souls dwell in bodies.
Nothing passes from rest to motion unless you move it in hidden ways,
O new moon.

— from Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems, Translated by Bernard Lewis

/ Photo by Joy Krauthammer /

You glide between the heart and its casing as tears glide from the eyelid.

Isn’t that a wonderful opening line?

This is a poem about hidden movement, natural, free-flowing. And it is a poem about rest too. And the heart.

You dwell in my inwardness, in the depths of my heart, as souls dwell in bodies.

In states of deep spiritual communion, when the agitations of the mind are at rest and the attention is not seeking outward distractions, awareness naturally settles into the heart. And encounter takes place there– an immense sense of Being and expansive Love is seated there, in quiet majesty.

Nothing passes from rest to motion unless you move it in hidden ways

This poem beautifully evokes the sense of how, in the sacred state, movement ceases for the individual, though there is not inactivity. All action — inner and outer — becomes only an appearance of self-governed movement, when, in reality, it is found to be the natural flowing of the Divine through us. The individual identity only pretends to be directing the movement but, like a gull resting on the ocean waves, it is simply carried along by the moon’s tug upon the tide.

Just as we have the rhythm of the heart, so too do we have the flow of the breath until we discover the resting point between the in-breath and the out-breath. When the shuttle on the loom has made its full circuit and pauses just long enough to glimpse the pattern… before it moves again to continue weaving the fabric.

Mansur al- Hallaj

Iran/Persia (9th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Nov 20 2013

forgiveness & freedom

The path of forgiveness
is the path of freedom.

Forgiveness is a rebellion
against the ego’s self-importance.

No responses yet

Nov 18 2013

Lalla – Intense cold makes water ice

Published by under Poetry

Intense cold makes water ice
by Lalla

English version by Coleman Barks

Intense cold makes water ice.
Then the hard ice turns to slush
and back to water, so there are three
forms of consciousness: the individual,
the world, and God, which in the sun
of True Awareness melt to one flowing:

Lalla is that.

In meditation, I entered the love furnace,
burned impurities away, and as the sun
of a new knowing rose, I realized
that the words “Lalla” and “God”
point to this peacefulness.

— from Naked Song, by Lalla / Translated by Coleman Barks

/ Photo by net_efekt /

I spent most of my growing up years in Los Angeles — endless city, and no winters. I remember the one time as a child when the temperature dropped down to 30 degrees, and I implored the weather gods for snow. But it was not to be. It was Southern California, after all. A little more bundled than usual, I still had to go to school.

So when I moved to Colorado as an adult, you can imagine my sense of wonder at the snow each winter. In fact, I lived in places up in the mountains where the snow would build up until it literally covered part of the ground floor windows. One more reminder for me that, no matter how much we humans construct our own environments, we are still residents within the world of nature, and that natural world is immense, stunningly beautiful, and ignored at our own peril…

Intense cold makes water ice.
Then the hard ice turns to slush
and back to water…

Lalla is giving us a simple spiritual metaphor, but although the intellect can quickly comprehend what she is saying, it’s important not to rush past it. Sit with the metaphor for a bit, let the imagery and meaning ferment quietly in your mind.

Water becomes solid ice when it is cold enough. It becomes almost rock-like: impenetrable, graspable, tangible… an unavoidable ‘thing.’ With a little bit of warmth, it starts to melt and becomes a slushy mixture of states, in some ways still seemingly solid, yet a hand can pass through it. When it has fully yielded to the warmth, it is liquid again, fluid, ungraspable, less a ‘thing’ and more of a filling of space.

Even so, all are the same substance: water. There has been no essential change other than the form perceived by the witness; it is a continuum that only appears different.

…so there are three
forms of consciousness: the individual,
the world, and God, which in the sun
of True Awareness melt to one flowing

And Lalla is reminding us that the individual and God are the same, separate only in apparent form, but in essence it is all one continuum of consciousness. The individual, the world, and God, when seen clearly in the warming sunlight of True Awareness are seen to “melt to one flowing.”

Lalla is that.

Her insight: In that instant of true seeing, we cease to identify ourselves as the individual or ego, and instead recognize ourselves as “that” — the flowing that moves through the entire spectrum of existence.

I realized
that the words “Lalla” and “God”
point to this peacefulness.

Reread those last lines, but insert your own name for Lalla’s.

Have a beautiful day!

Lalla, Lalla poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Lalla

Kashmir (India/Pakistan) (14th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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5 responses so far

Nov 18 2013

trysting place

Approach the trysting place

If you come any other way,
what’s the point?

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Nov 15 2013

Hakim Sanai – The way to You

Published by under Poetry

The way to You
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Priya Hemenway

The way to You
lies clearly in my heart
and cannot be seen or known to the mind.
As my words turn to silence,
Your sweetness surrounds me.

— from The Book of Everything: Journey of the Heart’s Desire, by Hakim Sanai Al-Ghaznavi / Translated by Priya Hemenway

/ Photo by Lel4nd /

This poem poem by the great Sanai — short and oh so sweet. I won’t disturb its silence with a lot of my own words, except to thank everyone for the many warm-hearted comments and emails.


PS- Sending many blessings to the people of the Philippines. You’ve been very much in my thoughts this past week.

Hakim Sanai

Afghanistan (1044? – 1150?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Nov 15 2013

don’t externalize

Don’t externalize your power.
Don’t externalize your delight.
Don’t externalize your purpose.

No responses yet

Nov 13 2013

My Introduction to Sacred Poetry

Ivan M. Granger

I am often asked how I came to the world of sacred poetry. What set me on this path? Was there a particular poet who opened the doorway or a line that hooked me? What was my inspiration for starting the Poetry Chaikhana?

My father, Steven Granger, was a poet, so I heard poetry from a young age. Like many young people, I wrote a bit of poetry as I grew up, but I didn’t take it too seriously. Most of the poetry I was exposed to was, well, boring to me. I thought of poetry as belonging my father’s world. To me it was mostly an intellectual game of words.

In the year 2000, I moved with my wife Michele to Maui. A friend from the mainland sent me a series of talks by the poet David Whyte on cassette tapes. I went for long drives along Maui’s country roads, through the tall sugar cane fields, among the rows of spiky pineapple plants, listening to David Whyte’s molasses accent, as he told stories and recited poetry by poets I hadn’t heard of before: Antonio Machado, Anna Akhmatova.

Maui’s natural beauty and quiet rhythms of land and sea and sky inspired me to go deeper into my spiritual practices. I was meditating deeply, praying, fasting, going for long walks in the eucalyptus forests that grew along the slopes of Haleakala Volcano. It was idyllic, yet I was going through a personal crisis.

/ Photo by alierturk /

I had just broken with a spiritual group I had been practicing with for nearly ten years. So, while I was engaged in intensive spiritual practice, it had lost its context. Should I still be following the same form of prayer, the same focus in meditation? I was flailing about.

Christmas came, and the sense of crisis deepened. The holidays just seemed to emphasize my disorientation. I was in my early 30s by that point and had no career to speak of. I was just doing work to get by. I was largely cut off from friends and family, cut off even from the American mainland. My one driving goal was spiritual growth. That was my only identity. And it was in disarray.

I came to a profound personal confrontation. For the first time I really saw myself. And that was a terrifying thing. I dropped all pretense and projection, all the fantasies of who I thought I was or who I might become. I just looked at myself plainly, as I was. What I saw wasn’t terribly impressive. I felt I was a mostly good-hearted person, but largely ineffectual. I had the ironic recognition that I was basically a likable flake. What truly surprised me, though, was the thought that followed, which was that it was okay.

New Years came and went, while I hovered in that limbo state.

The combination began to ferment in my mind – the poetry and the personal crisis. Continue Reading »

40 responses so far

Nov 11 2013

Basava – Where they feed the fire

Published by under Poetry

Where they feed the fire
by Basava

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

In a brahmin house
where they feed the fire
as a god

when the fire goes wild
and burns the house

they splash on it
the water of the gutter
and the dust of the street,

beat their breasts
and call the crowd.

These men then forget their worship
and scold their fire,
O lord of the meeting rivers!

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

/ Photo by /

I hope it is obvious that this poem is meant to make us laugh at an absurd turnabout. We have a proper brahmin house with a fire altar, and they are feeding that fire as a god. But the moment that god steps out of bounds and starts to burn things up, the worshippers are terrified and try to extinguish that god with gutter water.

Of course, there is a lot being said in this poem…

On the surface, the poem pokes fun at what the Virasaiva sect considered the idolatry of worshipping fire “as a god,” particularly doing so only when the fire stays within comfortable bounds. Yet “when the fire goes wild,” then the fire is instead treated like a dangerous, insentient force that must be suppressed. Suddenly the worshipper has set himself above his god!

On a deeper level, the fire here is the divine fire of bliss. Basavanna is chiding those who worship the sacred reality and mystical truth, but only so long as it is nice and neat and socially acceptable — intellectualized and not actually experienced directly. When the fire of bliss “goes wild” and “burns the house,” filling the awareness with the fire of the one all-consuming reality, then these casual worshippers become terrified and try to suppress this sacred process, denigrating the mystics and saints who embody this fiery truth.

They splash on it
the water of the gutter
and the dust of the street

They try to cover this blazing reality with an overwhelm of emotion, sensory experience, and mundane perception. They “call the crowd” and attempt to return to the limited consensus reality shared by the mass of people. Still identified with the ego, they feel threatened by this bliss-fire and, instead of dancing amidst the flames, they “forget their worship” and “scold their fire.”

So Basavanna challenges us to ask ourselves honestly: Do we worship only what is comfortable, a god of our making and under our control, a safely caged notion of the Divine? Or do we truly worship and hold nothing back as we recognize the blissful, blazing Reality?

Basava, Basava poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Basava

India (1134 – 1196) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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3 responses so far

Nov 11 2013

moment of recognition

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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Nov 08 2013

Denise Levertov – Primary Wonder

Published by under Poetry

Primary Wonder
by Denise Levertov

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

— from Denise Levertov: Selected Poems, by Denise Levertov

/ Photo by ryoung /

Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions…

We all wrestle with this, the demands of daily life, of work and family, all our plans and hopes and fears, the need to order everything every moment. In the midst of it all we struggle to remember that “quiet mystery.” Balancing a life in this world with that wide open wonder, it can feel like too much to achieve, at times. The demands of the day sometimes demand our all. Yet it is the wonder and the mystery that fills our our lives and gives them meaning.

When “problems” fill the day, then those problems are the day’s worship. The most mundane and seemingly meaningless effort, when approached with a sense of service and a questing heart, becomes an act of beauty. And when we finally come exhausted to a quiet moment, we are ready to fall silent before the mystery. Too tired to maintain our pretenses, we rest in awe.

And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me…

Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat

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Nov 08 2013


Absolutism is not an expression of faith,
it is a symptom of a lack of faith.

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Nov 06 2013

e. e. cummings – may my heart always be open to little

Published by under Poetry

may my heart always be open to little
by e. e. cummings

may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple
and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong
for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully
and love yourself so more than truly
there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
pulling all the sky over him with one smile

— from E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962, by e. e. cummings

/ Photo by USFWS Pacific /

Boy… e.e. cummings.

Any commentary or thoughts I might choose to share would be too linear. What would cummings say?

far better to roll wordlets with otherthan meanings
and let them pool slow in the honey-glad heart

Or, I can just reread the poem…

may my mind stroll about hungry
and fearless and thirsty and supple

Have a wonderful day!

PS- Following Monday’s poem, several people wrote to ask me what M.E. is. M.E. is another term for chronic fatigue syndrome. (The acronym stands for myalgic encephalomyelitis — whew!) What most people loosely label chronic fatigue is actually a chronic immune disorder that tends to affect the nervous system and muscles with a range of recurring symptoms. For that reason, the health community increasingly prefers the term M.E., since the word “fatigue” implies someone who is simply overworked and just needs to rest, while the reality is actually a complex chronic medical condition. So they’re using that tongue-twister instead (which can cause fatigue just learning how to pronounce it)… or M.E.

Sending love!

e. e. cummings, e. e. cummings poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry e. e. cummings

US (1894 – 1962) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Nov 06 2013

both ways

Blessings work
both ways.

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Nov 04 2013

Mukteshwari – Swami Muktananda

Published by under Poetry

by Swami Muktananda

Kundalini Shakti is the prana of the universe.
By the power of this great Goddess
the universe exists.
Muktananda, know Her.

When Kundalini awakes
all doors are thrown open.
Rama reveals himself in the heart.
Muktananda, love Kundalini.

When Kundalini awakes,
the eyes are filled with light,
fragrances arise,
nectar bathes the tongue,
ecstasy plays in the heart….
Muktananda, worship Kundalini.

/ Photo by AthosLuca /

Sorry about my absence. Another period of M.E. I’m back, starting to feel better…

Over the weekend, Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs all over the world celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. Traditionally, it marks the end of the harvest season, while inviting abundance and prosperous growth in the coming year. It is particularly a time to honor Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. The lighting of lamps keeps the light of the past season shining through the darkness of winter and ensures new life in the new year. The lamps in the darkness are also a symbol of meditation, the light of awareness, pure and focused, amidst the stillness of night. This begins the season of inturning and enlightenment that will lead to new life. Happy Diwali!

At this time of enlightenment and honoring the Goddess, I thought this poem by the hugely significant 20th century guru, Swami Muktananda, honoring the Goddess as Kundalini Shakti would be worth contemplating.

In Hindu yogic metaphysics, the Divine can be seen as both masculine and feminine. The masculine aspect of God is pure transcendent spirit, while the feminine aspect of God is the vibratory, emanating, manifestation of that pure Essence. The God is the flame and the Goddess is the light and heat that emanate from it. The Masculine is the still potential, and the Feminine is manifestation of that potential. All of material creation is part of that manifestation, brought into being by the power of the Goddess. She receives the spiritual essence, gestates it, quickens it and gives it form, and then brings it to birth.

By the power of this great Goddess
the universe exists.

This is the fundamental power of being, and the Goddess is that power. “Shakti” means “power,” but it is more than the ability to achieve some result. It isn’t that the Goddess has power, the Goddess is power. This is why Muktananda sings his praises to Kundalini Shakti, not as an energy or psychological force, but as the full Goddess.

When Kundalini awakes
all doors are thrown open.

Kundalini Shakti is, in the language of yoga, the coiled power of the Goddess that usually sits dormant at the base of the spine within the individual. Through spiritual practice this coiled power can be awakened. It then rises as a fiery force up the spinal axis, through the spiritual-energetic centers known as the chakras, to the crown chakra.

In the process, the heart opens with the most profound sense of love, compassion, joy, and interconnectedness — “Rama reveals himself in the heart.” Often, there is an all-permeating sense of radiance and light (“the eyes are filled with light”), and a sensory sweetness seems to trickle down from above, as if you are tasting the most delightful honeyed wine (“nectar bathes the tongue”).

This is the initiation all mystics seek. It is the beginning of illumination. And it is the sacred marriage. Why “marriage”?

As we said, Kundalini Shakti is the power of the Goddess within the individual. When this power fully and consciously rises to the crown, it reunites with the male aspect of the Divine. That union of divine polarities within the individual — overwhelming and ecstatic — is the sacred marriage. The mystic is made whole in ways that were unimaginable before. Not just the single individual, but all of creation is seen anew, realigned, re-envisioned as a vast living wholeness.

I hope it is obvious that this is a universal experience of mystical awakening, not just found among practitioners of yoga. Each great spiritual tradition has its own language to describe this. In esoteric Christianity, for example, one can draw a parallel between the Kundalini Shakti and the Holy Spirit, which is often described in feminine terms. The transcendent masculine aspect of God can be understood as the Heavenly Father. And the new, expanded sense of self that is (re)born from the sacred marriage might be identified as the Son, the individual’s Christ-self. Similar descriptions are found in Islam, Judaism, shamanic traditions… This is a human-spiritual experience that reflects the basic relationship between the awakening soul and the divine reality. It is the heritage of every one of us.

Kundalini awakes. The heart opens, the mind opens, doorways open, and through Her power, the full self is born into the world.

Kundalini Shakti… know Her.

Have a beautiful day!

Swami Muktananda, Swami Muktananda poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Swami Muktananda

India (1908 – 1982) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

More poetry by Swami Muktananda

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