Jul 09 2014

Sarmad – My heart searched for your fragrance

Published by under Poetry

My heart searched for your fragrance
by Sarmad

English version by Isaac A. Ezekiel

My heart searched for your fragrance
      in the breeze moving at dawn,
      my eyes searched for the flower of your face
      in the garden of creation.
Neither could lead me to your abode —
      contemplation alone showed me the way.

— from Sarmad: Martyr to Love Divine, by Isaac A. Ezekiel


/ Photo by Courtney /

I know that the poem emails have been less frequent in recent weeks. I have been working on the upcoming anthology (I know, I’ve been talking about it for a while, but it is coming…), balancing my day job, and still dealing with ups and downs in health. Besides, a little uncertainty is a good thing; it helps us to bring fresh eyes to each new poem.

Reading this lovely poem by Sarmad, I can honestly embrace either side of its point. He is saying that, no matter how beautiful and uplifting the the world around us may be, the Eternal is only found within the inner space of deep contemplation. And that is such an important reminder for the human world that is perpetually hooked by the senses and the desire to comprehend everything in terms of material reality. Even the purest appreciation of the most stunning panorama does not hold God. Always, always, the Eternal is found within.

And yet– physical reality, especially the natural world in all its life and beauty, reveals something to us of the deeper Reality. In the sunrise, in a flower, we do not see the face of God… but, when we learn to look, we can see there a suggestion of a smile. Spirit playfully hides just behind the physical. Grasping at the physical world leads to failure and blindness, but recognizing its beauty can lead us to inner stillness and true seeing.

So, should we agree with Sarmad, or disagree? Both, I think.

PS- Sending blessings and good wishes to all of my Muslim friends celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.

Sarmad

Iran/Persia & India (? – 1659) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi
Jewish

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7 responses so far

Jul 09 2014

sift your life

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

One response so far

Jun 30 2014

Basava – The eating bowl is not one bronze

Published by under Poetry

The eating bowl is not one bronze
by Basava

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

The eating bowl is not one bronze
and the looking glass another.

      Bowl and mirror are one metal
      Giving back light
      one becomes a mirror.

            Aware, one is the Lord’s;
            unaware, a mere human.

                  Worship the lord without forgetting,
                  the lord of the meeting rivers.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Photo by Gaetan Lee /

Bronze is a soft metal, easily shaped. It can be hammered into a bowl or flattened and polished, forming a simple mirror.

Basava is playing with a traditional teaching metaphor in this poem: both the bowl and the mirror are made of bronze. Mentally we label them as being different, but fundamentally they are the same substance, “one metal.”

The bronze can be understood to represent God. All beings, all things are made of the same substance, though we mentally distinguish them by outer shape. The only substantial difference between the eating bowl and the mirror is the form they have taken on. We can say that the mirror has recognized its nature as a bronze object. The nature of bronze, when straight and polished, is to give back light.

We are all constructed of the same God-stuff. When we become aware of our nature and polish ourselves we give back light and become a mirror.

Basava, Basava poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Basava

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

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3 responses so far

Jun 30 2014

perfection and stillness

Why strive for the perfect
thought or action?
The perfection you seek
is found in stillness.

No responses yet

Jun 25 2014

Santoka – Hailstones, too

Published by under Poetry

Hailstones, too
by Santoka (Santoka Taneda)

English version by John Stevens

Hailstones, too,
Enter my begging bowl.

— from Mountain Tasting: The Haiku and Journals of Santoka Taneda, by Santoka Teneda / Translated by John Stevens


/ Photo by Benny Lin /

Just two lines, just a few words, yet this poem suggests so much to me.

Santoka was a wandering Zen monk at the beginning of the 20th century, and whatever he received in his begging bowl was his food for the day. For such a monk, the begging bowl is both survival and the medium of connection to the wider world. It takes on archetypal significance. The begging bowl comes to represent the awareness itself: whatever the self is to receive must first enter the begging bowl.

Rice and coin and flowers come to Santoka through the medium of his begging bowl. But it is the monk’s discipline to hold out his begging bowl and receive whatever comes to him with equanimity, as the meditator receives with balance whatever is witnessed. Hailstones, too, enter the begging bowl. Everything that comes is a gift, food for the awareness, whether or not it feeds the body as well.

To me, this poem evokes that perfect receptivity in which surprise, disillusionment, delight, and new awareness all mix together as the mind opens to what is actually present in the present moment.

Santoka (Santoka Taneda), Santoka (Santoka Taneda) poetry, Buddhist poetry Santoka (Santoka Taneda)

Japan (1882 – 1940) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Santoka (Santoka Taneda)

5 responses so far

Jun 25 2014

opportunity

Everything is an opportunity
for awareness.

No responses yet

Jun 13 2014

Mary Oliver – Sunrise

Published by under Poetry

Sunrise
by Mary Oliver

You can
die for it–
an idea,
or the world. People

have done so,
brilliantly,
letting
their small bodies be bound

to the stake,
creating
an unforgettable
fury of light. But

this morning,
climbing the familiar hills
in the familiar
fabric of dawn, I thought

of China,
and India
and Europe, and I thought
how the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.

— from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Photo by Zach Dischner /

We have a full moon. A little Friday the 13th energy to keep us on our toes. And the Summer Solstice is just a few days away. Time to unleash your wild side. Dance under the moonlight. Shout to greet the sunrise. Embarrass yourself and your neighbors. When will you have a better excuse?

Me, I am going to recite poetry with friends. Words are just words, but the breath they ride on, now that’s dangerous!

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us?

More than anything else, the bold act of a deep breath is a proclamation of being, of self, of presence, when so much conspires to sweep you into negation. Rebels breathe deeply. It is another way to enter fire.

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

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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3 responses so far

Jun 13 2014

permission

The joy is there
awaiting permission.

No responses yet

Jun 11 2014

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel – Intimate Hymn

Published by under Poetry

Intimate Hymn
by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

English version by Rabbi Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi

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

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

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

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

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


/ Photo by mildhand /

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

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

All plead “Feel us”
All beg “See us”

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

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

God! Lend me your eyes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poland & US (1907 – 1972) Timeline
Jewish

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5 responses so far

Jun 11 2014

fierce eye

See everything
with a fierce eye
and a gentle heart.

One response so far

Jun 06 2014

John O’Donohue – Beannacht / Blessing

Published by under Poetry

Beannacht / Blessing
by John O’Donohue

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

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

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

— from Echoes of Memory, by John O’Donohue


/ Photo by jimmy brown /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!



[BOOK LIST REPEATING]

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

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

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7 responses so far

Jun 06 2014

the space between

God inhabits the space between our thoughts.

No responses yet

Jun 04 2014

Farid ud-Din Attar – A slave’s freedom

Published by under Poetry

A slave’s freedom
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

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

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


/ Photo by Lucas Incas /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farid ud-Din Attar, Farid ud-Din Attar poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Farid ud-Din Attar

Iran/Persia (1120? – 1220?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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4 responses so far

Jun 04 2014

renounce

Renounce the past.
Renounce the future.

Rediscover them in the present.

No responses yet

May 30 2014

Maya Angelou – Phenomenal Woman

Published by under Poetry

Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou

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

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

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

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

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

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


/ Photo by KealaKC /

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

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

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

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

US (1928 – 2014) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Maya Angelou

7 responses so far

May 30 2014

discipline and love

Holiness is born of love,
not discipline.

Discipline only increases
your capacity to love.

No responses yet

May 29 2014

Video: David Whyte TED Talk

Published by under Poetry,Videos

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

One response so far

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