Feb 10 2017

Mirabai – No one knows my invisible life

Published by under Poetry

No one knows my invisible life
by Mirabai

English version by Willis Barnstone

No one knows my invisible life.
Pain
and madness for Rama.
Our wedding bed is high up
in the gallows.
Meet him?
If the dark healer comes,
we’ll negotiate the hurt.
I love the man who takes care
of cows. The cowherd.
Cowherd and dancer.
My eyes are drunk,
worn out from making love
with him. We are one.
I am now his dark color.
People notice me, point fingers at me.
They see my desire,
since I’m walking about like a lunatic.
I’m wiped out, gone.
Yet no one knows I live with my prince,
the cowherd.
The palace can’t contain me.
I leave it behind.
I couldn’t care less about gossip
or my royal name.
I’ll be with him
in all his gardens.

— from To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone


/ Image by Cia de Foto /

Tonight is the full moon. And an eclipse. And a comet will be seen in the sky, as well. It should be power packed, a time for transformation.

I couldn’t pick just any old pleasant poem. We need something intense, passionate, with a hint of danger, and the determination that leads us into new awareness…

If the dark healer comes,
we’ll negotiate the hurt.

Isn’t that a great line?

This is a stunning love poem by Mirabai, erotic and dangerous in its passion for God.

I love the man who takes care
of cows. The cowherd.
Cowherd and dancer.

The cowherd and “dark healer” mentioned here is, of course, Krishna (often equated with the other great Vaishnava figure of Rama).

Our wedding bed is high up
in the gallows.

When Mirabai says their wedding bed is “high up in the gallows,” Mirabai is referring to the mystic’s marriage bed or bridal chamber — the point of union between the individual awareness and the Divine, which takes place “high up” within the chamber of the crown.

Of course, a gallows is not the same as a marriage bed. It is where people are hanged. It is where one goes to die… It is where you go to utterly lose yourself. In other words, this is both the place where the old ego-self is lost, but where supreme delight and fulfillment is found.

To be “worn out from making love” is a reference to the divine union of mystical ecstasy, when the individual identity completely disappears in the divine embrace. That old identity is “worn out,” replaced by the mystic’s bliss.

…We are one.
I am now his dark color.

Darkness, dark color, is associated with many Hindu gods, representing the vastness of mystery, the Eternal in its mysterious, invisible, undefinable form beyond manifestation. When Mirabai says she is now Krishna’s dark color, she suggests that her individuality has been so intimately and profoundly touched by divine union, that she has utterly become the same, taking on that vast, unfathomable quality.

The palace can’t contain me.
I leave it behind.

The “palace” most obviously suggests her early life among royalty, but it can also be understood as representing her body, her name, her limited identity, which can no longer contain her newly awakened awareness, so she leaves all of those self-limiting definitions behind.

Mirabai doesn’t care what people say about how she may step beyond social norms or how other people want to define her, for she is at rest with the Divine One within the eternal garden that is everywhere present.

Flow with the changes, embrace the unexpected, and have a magical weekend.


Recommended Books: Mirabai

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light Songs of the Saints of India The Winged Energy of Delight
More Books >>


Mirabai, Mirabai poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Mirabai

India (1498 – 1565?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Feb 10 2017

spark and flash

Let that charged space
spark inside you and flash.

No responses yet

Feb 03 2017

Wu Men Hui-k’ai – Moon and clouds are the same

Published by under Poetry

Moon and clouds are the same
by Wu Men Hui-k’ai

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Moon and clouds are the same;
mountain and valley are different.
All are blessed; all are blessed.
Is this one? Is this two?

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


/ Image by mikelehen /

The world, all of life, is like one of those games of visual perspective. Do we see mountains and a valley, or do we see mountains-and-valley? It is all one continuity, but with our mind we separate them into distinct objects of perception. Where is the point of separation? We become so convinced by our own mental concepts of distinction that we hardly ever think to search for the borderline that separates things. Put on your hiking boots and go find the exact point at which mountain becomes valley, always asking yourself, “Is this one? Is this two?”

It is both one and two. In two there is identity and capacity, but in one there is unity and rest.

All are blessed; all are blessed.


Recommended Books: Wu Men Hui-k’ai

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Gateless Gate: The Wu-men Kuan The Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mumonkan The World: A Gateway: Commentaries on the Mumonkan


Wu Men Hui-k’ai

China (1183 – 1260) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Feb 03 2017

peace and suffering

The peace we cultivate within ourselves
flows outward.
And in the same way
the suffering we allow in others
creeps into our own lives.

No responses yet

Feb 01 2017

Wendell Berry – To Know the Dark

Published by under Poetry

To Know the Dark
by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

— from Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds, Edited by Neil Astley / Edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce


/ Image by Nelleke /

I have been thinking a lot about the dark recently, staring into the heart of darkness, so to speak.

Many of us who see ourselves as being on a “spiritual” pathway have a real difficulty with this — really looking at darkness, in ourselves and in others. We often want everything to be about light, light. But that can lead to a sort of frailty. To really witness the horror of a cruel heart in action can be devastating. Multiply that many times over when the cruelty is ingrained into a bureaucratic system.

For the kind hearted, that terrible recognition becomes a shattering confrontation with the abysses that humanity is capable of. To see another human heart turn cold and hard in the face of the suffering inflicted on others or, worse, to see a heart revel at that suffering, is a hellish vision that we instinctively seek to deny and unsee. This is partly because it whispers to us that we are capable of such cruelty ourselves. It also nags us with the thought that such cruelties have been taking place all along and we, in our complacency, did not acknowledge it before. It all becomes too much and we want to turn away.

But the job of engaged spirituality is not to paper over the world with flowers and happy faces so that we can breathe a sigh of relief. Real spirituality, deep spirituality requires seeing reality, all of reality, as it is, from its most luminous to its bleakest black and everything in between.

Whether we speak of Christian traditions of “witnessing” or Buddhist practices of holding a steady gaze in the presence of suffering, seeing the fullness of reality, the dark with the light, is essential for one to cultivate a deep, full, and strong spirituality. Though it breaks our hearts and fractures open fissures in our image of the world, it is necessary.

This fierce willingness to see everything is necessary to be fully present within the fulness of reality. It is necessary so that we do not wither in the face of confrontation. We must see suffering if we are to soothe wounds. And we must recognize cruelty that we may protect the vulnerable. To summon strength, we must recognize that conditions require strength. To express kindness and connection, we must see clearly who has been labeled an outsider.

Today I will practice holding an unwavering gaze in the dark so that I may see what I see, whatever changes that may bring in me…

…and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Given: Poems Selected Poems of Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>


Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

5 responses so far

Feb 01 2017

invitation

Suffering is always an invitation
to awareness
and compassion
and action.

No responses yet

Jan 23 2017

Gabriela Mistral – Those Who Do Not Dance

Published by under Poetry

Those Who Do Not Dance
by Gabriela Mistral

English version by Helene Masslo Anderson

A crippled child
Said, “How shall I dance?”
Let your heart dance
We said.

Then the invalid said:
“How shall I sing?”
Let your heart sing
We said

Then spoke the poor dead thistle,
“But I, how shall I dance?”
Let your heart fly to the wind
We said.

Then God spoke from above
“How shall I descend from the blue?”
Come dance for us here in the light
We said.

All the valley is dancing
Together under the sun,
And the heart of him who joins us not
Is turned to dust, to dust.


/ Image by tasiaraye /

I thought this poem might be a good choice in honor of the weekend’s Women’s Marches across the world.

With this poem, the great Chilean poet, Gabriela Mistral, through simple language, is exploring how we move beyond our assumed limitations and express joy, creativity, life. How do we dance when the body does not respond? When we have grown dry and prickly and lost most of our substance, is it possible we can fly? Even God, at least the God of our imaginations, needs an invitation in which we gather together in the light.

The more we remember, as we see our limitations as new pathways rather than roadblocks, we begin to come alive, reconnect, and dance, until all valley is in movement with us under the sun.


Recommended Books: Gabriela Mistral

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral


Gabriela Mistral, Gabriela Mistral poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Gabriela Mistral

Chile (1889 – 1957) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Jan 23 2017

The Power of Poetry — and “Nasty Women”

I posted this on the Poetry Chaikhana’s Facebook page over the weekend, but I thought I should share it here, as well. This is a video of the actress Ashley Judd reciting a poem by a 19-year-old young woman about “Nasty Women.” As she speaks this poem, she stalks across the stage and channeling the shared experience of outrage combined with a renewed spirit of self-assertion. It is blunt, the language and imagery will be uncomfortable for many. But I share it for this reason: This poem, and the way it is delivered, is undeniably powerful. This poem has become one of the focal points of this massive movement. Refusing to mince words, this poem gives voice to the feelings of so many women who participated in this weekend’s events.

That is the power of poetry. Crystalizing and magnifying the sense of identity and purpose within the collective awareness.

Whether or not you like the poem or the mood it represents, I encourage you to watch in order to see the power of poetry as it operates within society.

Ashley Judd’s “Nasty Woman” Speech

One response so far

Jan 23 2017

favor compassion

When in doubt, favor compassion
over certainty or tradition.

No responses yet

Jan 18 2017

Muso Soseki – Satori Poem

Published by under Poetry

Toki-no-Ge (Satori Poem)
by Muso Soseki

English version by W. S. Merwin

Year after year
      I dug in the earth
            looking for the blue of heaven
only to feel
      the pile of dirt
            choking me
until once in the dead of night
      I tripped on a broken brick
            and kicked it into the air
and saw that without a thought
      I had smashed the bones
            of the empty sky

— from Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by Soiku Shigematsu


/ Image by Questavia /

Don’t you like the way this short Zen poem says so much?

Year after year
      I dug in the earth
            looking for the blue of heaven

The spiritual quest is first seen as some sort of construction project, but he doesn’t really know what to build or what he’s doing so he just digs deeper.

He is digging into the earth searching for heaven. We might take this to mean that he is delving into worldly, material existence. Or perhaps it is merely to suggest the heavy effort of spiritual striving. Either way, the effort, rather than freeing him is choking him.

only to feel
      the pile of dirt
            choking me

It is as if he has been digging his own grave. Even then he doesn’t know what else to do.

But insight, that moment of satori or enlightenment, comes almost by accident.

until once in the dead of night
      I tripped on a broken brick
            and kicked it into the air

Though it may be an accident, it is not random. If he hadn’t been digging in the first place, he never would have stumbled. So, in an ironic way, the effort has served its purpose, but not in the purposeful cause-and-effect manner he imagined.

Significantly, it is “in the dead of night” when he stumbles and falls, what we might interpret as the dark night of the soul when he feels most hopeless and drained.

and saw that without a thought
      I had smashed the bones
            of the empty sky

Yet in falling on his back he is face up and finally sees the sky. He’s stunned into silence (“without a thought”). The sky itself shatters. He pierces through the false sky, which is a construction of his mind — his thoughts about the sky and the heavenly realms, his concepts and assumptions of all that encompasses his world. He finally sees clearly sky, as it is, the living, empty spaciousness that overarches and permeates everything.

A reminder to us that earnest seekers labor hard, but the masters know how to fall back — and so see the sky.

=

Big energies are circulating because of the inauguration this week in the US. It’s okay to not go along with the pretense that things are okay.

The challenge going forward — cultivating a peaceful heart in coordination with a strong voice and a willing hand.


Recommended Books: Muso Soseki

Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons East Window: Poems from Asia Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader


Muso Soseki, Muso Soseki poetry, Buddhist poetry Muso Soseki

Japan (1275 – 1351) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Jan 18 2017

The real you

The real you
is much too big to be your own.

One response so far

Jan 12 2017

John O’Donohue – For Light

Published by under Poetry

For Light
by John O’Donohue

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique
Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found word.

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


/ Image by Darren Bertram /

After the holidays I have been having difficulty getting back into a regular rhythm of work and poetry and life in general. Do I need to refocus? Should I intensify my spiritual practice? Fast for a day or two? Should I be spending more time with poetry and writing, or should I let it sit until it bubbles up inside me? Do I push or do I putter?

There’s a part of me that starts to spin in agitation when I feel like the rhythm of my life has shifted and I don’t know my next step. But then there is also a nameless part of my awareness that finds a certain pleasure at resting in that uncertain space. That feeling of being out of sync and uncomfortable, as if I’m an alien in the center my own life, is also an opportunity to forget what it means to be “me.”

It can feel like a period of darkness, but it also allows us to see by a new light. When our accustomed patterns of feeling and activity shift, there is a period of time before we settle into the forward focus of new rhythms when the alleyways and secondary spaces of our lives become visible. Some of these are the most fascinating quirks of who we are. Here we may find troubled spaces, secret wounds, but also immense creativity, playfulness, and forgotten treasures and inner life.

O’Donohue’s poem seems like the perfect meditation. Light and darkness. The illumination of awareness and the shadow that allows us to see what is missed in the glare of too much light. How both shadow and light reveal in different ways. How light can be gentle or harsh, how the light and the dark can interact to shape the quality of the light and affect not just what we see but how we react to what is seen.

And just as important as seeing is how we choose to see.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.


Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Conamara Blues Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom Echoes of Memory
More Books >>


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

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

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Jan 12 2017

new action

With each new insight
take a new action
to claim it.

No responses yet

Jan 12 2017

Kindle Price Savings

Published by under Books

I haven’t mentioned it often, but all of the Poetry Chaikhana books are available in Kindle ebook format for the electronically inclined among you. And, with the new year, the price of the Kindle versions have dropped:

Gathering Silence – now $3.99
The Longing In Between – now $3.99
Real Thirst – now $2.99
Marrow of Flame – now $2.99

I still like the feel of a tangible book in my hands, but the convenience of having a book — or a whole library — available at my fingertips on an electronic device is compelling. And the price saving is significant.

No responses yet

Jan 04 2017

Shah Nematollah Vali – The Point of the Circle

Published by under Poetry

The Point of the Circle
by Shah Nematollah Vali

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves
In the eyes of him
Who a circle draws.

When the point
Completed the circle
Its beginning and end
Were one.

When the compass
Did the circle complete
It was wrapped up
And rested its feet.

Without existence
Not-being are we;
We who are Not
And You existence free.

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.
Sweeter than the words of our guide,
Nimatullah knows no other words.

— from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal


/ Image by ratravarman /

When I was in high school I loved geometry. Something about the visual, spatial nature of geometry just clicked for me. This poem reminds me of the way I’d get lost in geometrical contemplations on hot afternoons in the classroom…

The point appeared in the circle
And was not;
But it was the dot
That the circle begot.

The point appears
As a circle, as it revolves…

In geometry, a point has no dimension. It has no diameter, no depth. It does not really exist in space; it is only an idea, a point of reference. Yet when you start to move it in a single direction, its trail creates a line. Move it around another point, you create an arc. Continue describing that arc, and its end will eventually meet its beginning, and form an endless circle.

From nothing, something has taken form. From the point, a circle emerges. It is the existence of the circle that proves the existence of the point. The point is not-being; the circle is being.

Here’s another image: A circle encloses a limited area. We can calculate the area with the formula pi multiplied by the radius squared. Yet, although the area is limited and specific, we can still fit an infinite number of points within the circle. Since a point does not take up space but can still have a location, its possibilities within the circle are unlimited.

Let’s meditate on this for a moment. Imagine that you are that point and the circle is the canvas of reality — your life. Your life has a limited number of years to it, a limited number of places you can go, people you will meet, experiences you will have. Being human, we instinctively rebel against that feeling of limitation. But we are like the point within the circle: Within the limited area of our lives, the possibilities available to us are, in reality, without limit. Just the slightest shift in point-of-view, and everything around us is made new. So, is our limited life really limited?

These are the sorts of things nerdy teenaged Ivan used to daydream about in geometry class…

I said the whole world was His dream;
Then I saw His dream was He.


Recommended Books: Shah Nematollah Vali

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi


Shah Nematollah Vali, Shah Nematollah Vali poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Shah Nematollah Vali

Iran/Persia (1330 – 1431) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Jan 04 2017

trace of time

Follow the trace of time
until the start
collapses with the end
in the space of the heart.

No responses yet

Dec 28 2016

Joseph Gikatilla – The Nut Garden

Published by under Poetry

The Nut Garden
by Joseph Gikatilla

English version by Peter Cole

The Nut Garden holds things felt and thought,
and feeling for thought is always a palace —

Sinai with flames of fire about it,
burning though never by fire devoured.

On all four sides surrounded so,
entrance is barred to pretenders forever.

For one who learns to be wise, however,
its doors are open toward the East:

he reaches out and takes a nut,
then cracks its shell, and eats…

— from The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492, Edited by Peter Cole


/ Image by Tatters /

I was trying to think of a poem in honor of Hanukkah today. This short selection by Joseph Gikatilla doesn’t directly deal with the traditional themes of Hanukkah like light, endurance, and renewal, but it came strongly to mind this morning, and so I thought I would share it with you…

This poem is from Rabbi Gikatilla’s major philosophical work of the same name — Ginnat Egoz or the Nut Garden. The title itself is imbued with layers of meaning — the nut (“egoz”) being a symbol for esoteric knowledge, and the word “ginat/GNT” being an acronym composed of the three main elements of his school of Kabbalah: Gematria (numerology of sacred texts), Notarikon (use of sacred acronyms), and Temurah (rearranging the letters of words in sacred texts to gain deeper esoteric insight).

But also, and perhaps most important, the reference to the “nut garden” or “nut orchard” evokes lines from the Song of Solomon :

I went down to the nut orchard,
to look at the blossoms of the valley,
to see whether the vines had budded,
whether the pomegranates were in bloom.
Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince.
(Song of Solomon 6:11-12)

In other words, this reference to a nut garden is also associated with a chariot. That image of a chariot is especially significant in Jewish mysticism. It is the Merkavah, the vehicle that transports the awareness to the eternal realms of the “prince” or the Messiah.

So, in the title alone, we have the “nut” of esoteric knowledge — difficult to open, but sweet and nourishing. It is discovered within the “nut garden” — the inner world, the psychic and spiritual landscape of the mystic. (And for the practitioner of this school of Kabbalah, this landscape is especially revealed through meditation on the permutations of letters and words within the sacred texts.) Entering this garden of secret, sacred knowledge, we discover the inner life budding and blossoming… and we find ourselves aboard the chariot of divine communion.

Sinai with flames of fire about it,
burning though never by fire devoured.

These lines are a reference to the overlapping Biblical images of the burning bush encountered by Moses, and the description of Mt. Sinai being surrounded by fire and lightning. These, too, are important images for mystics, interpreted by some to be a reference to the blissfully burning fire that often marks deep communion. When the mystic experiences that purifying and refining fire, it is as if the entire world is consumed, even one’s own outer self, and all that remains is what is eternal and lasting within — the inner Mt. Sinai.

On all four sides surrounded so,
entrance is barred to pretenders forever.

For one who learns to be wise, however,
its doors are open toward the East…

The summit of this inner mountain is holy ground that cannot be entered under false pretenses or with a selfish heart. One must approach in all humility, purity, and honesty, barefoot, without buffer or separation.

And then, “for one who learns to be wise,” the entrance is found to the East. The East is the direction of the rising sun, dawning awareness, the light of enlightenment. This the direction of awakening and new vision. This is why many sacred traditions pray and meditate facing East… it is the direction of opening.

he reaches out and takes a nut,
then cracks its shell, and eats…


Recommended Books: Joseph Gikatilla

The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492 Gates of Light: Sha’are Orah


Joseph Gikatilla

Spain (1248 – 1325?) Timeline
Jewish

Continue Reading »

One response so far

« Prev - Next »