May 05 2014

14 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

First dawn. Even the
birds in the tallest pines are
surprised by the sun.
~ Ivan M. Granger

I woke up this morning, and thought, Why not do something different to start the week off? Some miscellaneous things for you today…

14 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me

Here are several things about me that may not be very important, but some of you might find interesting –

1. I was born with a caul over my face and torticollis (neck atrophy). My parents were advised by doctors to surgically sever the muscles of my neck. They refused, thankfully. Thanks to my parents’ instincts, I have full mobility in my neck today.

2. I was named after Ivan Karamazov, from Dostoyevski’s Brothers Karmazov. I finally read the book when I was 18. I asked my mother why she named me after that particular brother. She said she always imagined him to be an interesting, deep-thinking intellectual. I said, yes, but you know he goes crazy, right? I mean, I could have been named after the good-hearted, naive mystic, instead.

3. I was once under suspicion for murder. (Why are you looking at me that way? No, I didn’t do it.) The crime took place in a state I’ve never visited. But the suspect did look a lot like me. I spent a very long 30 minutes being grilled by detectives before they released me.

4. When I was in high school, I wrote a short horror story and sent it to Stephen King. He sent back a typed index card saying that he liked the story and made a few friendly suggestions. I also wrote a science fiction novel when I was in my 20s. Never got it published. It’s sitting in the back of one of my closets, somewhere.

5. I got very skinny in my 30s, under 130 lbs (for a someone who stands 5′ 11″ tall). Several years ago I decided to radically alter my energies and I intentionally put on weight in order to be more physically present in the world. I had to train myself to eat more. I even lifted weights. In the space of 8 months, I added nearly 50 lbs to my body.

6. I am the son of hippie parents, yet I have never smoked pot… or drunk alcohol. Not once. (OK, I have had a sip of red wine and I think champagne, and maybe two other drinks — I wanted to know what they tasted like.) It’s not a weird religious thing, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with those things in moderation. For some reason that I don’t understand myself, I made a personal vow not to drink at age 13, and I’ve always stuck with it. On my 21st birthday, I did go to a bar, but mainly because I wanted to finally hear some good live music. A friend met me there and surprised me with a pitcher of beer. I spent all night pretending to drink the beer, but that glass of beer oddly never went down in level. The music was great, though.

7. I went to three universities in three years and graduated from none of them. In my freshman year, I was wait-listed for USC’s school of film. I thought of becoming a movie director, the next Kubrick.

8. I wanted to be Spider-Man as a child.

9. My father lived in Tehran, Iran in the 70s. He was a university professor there, and he left just before the Islamic Revolution kicked into full gear.

10. The only country outside the US I have visited (so far) is Canada. I have not yet been to Europe or India or South America. In all my teenage years in LA, I never crossed the border into Mexico. I have, however, lived in Oregon, California, Hawaii, Washington, and now Colorado. I’ve primarily been an internal traveler. We’ll see if I someday have the opportunity for international travel.

11. I attended a Montessori school as a young child.

12. My wife, Michele, and I lived a few houses away from each other as children in Eugene, Oregon — though we didn’t meet until I was in my 20s. Her family moved out a few months before mine moved in. When we met and started dating as adults, we discovered we have shared childhood memories of all the same places.

13. I can name most of the obscure border crossings throughout Europe. I worked for Rail Europe (in the US) for several years. I eventually moved to the Russian desk; since I could read and write a bit of Russian, part of my job was to fax ticket requests to Moscow.

14. The Greek side of my family can be traced to the island of Chios, near the coast of Turkey. Apparently, I still have distant cousins living on the island.


Some further thoughts on education…

My comments on knowledge and education accompanying Friday’s poem made a few people uncomfortable. To some it sounded as if I was negating the value of education and academic learning, which I really wasn’t trying to do.

I used strong language to make a point about our cultural assumptions. But I should be clear that I am by no means anti-intellectual or blind to the huge value of a good education. In my day job I work as a computer programmer and database designer. I definitely acknowledge the power of a well-exercised intellect that has the ability to think logically and can utilize information effectively. None of that would be possible without a solid education, a few special teachers along the way, and access to good information resources.

When I have a few extra dollars, I tend to buy books. I have shelves filled with books of poetry, history, novels, natural health, and, of course, religion and spirituality.

But– that is still not knowledge in the deep sense.

My real point is that education, books, and the skills of critical thinking can open a life up in profound ways: intellectually, yes, spiritually, professionally, socially, in so many ways. I think it’s hugely important and sometimes undervalued in general American culture and in government priorities. At the same time, we idolize this form of cognition and forget that, for all of its potential, it has significant limitations which causes blind spots within both the individual and in society. Real knowledge, full knowledge, comes from a deeper place within the awareness.

Having a good education with a keen intellect is like having the most powerful computer in the office. You can do amazing things with it. Creative things. Productive things. Or pointless things. Or even destructive things. It all depends on the operator. There are lots of reasons to acquire a capable computer, but we tend to forget that much more important is real knowledge of how — and why — to use it at all.

I strongly support education, intellect, and critical thinking, just not becoming lost within them. I value the intellect but, personally, I tend to value wisdom more and the knowing heart most of all. The question is not which to choose and which to reject, but how to develop them all in proportion and balance.


Fund Drive

Once more, thank you so much for the many generous donations sent in support of the Poetry Chaikhana. I’ll have a few more names to thank in upcoming emails.

To everyone who has sent a donation so far, your help makes a huge difference!


Image by gregster09

The warbler knows
only dawn’s shaft
of light
on her breast.

Forgetting false future
suns, she sings

in no voice
but her own.

~ Ivan M. Granger

16 responses so far

May 02 2014

Ryokan – Even if you consume as many books

Published by under Poetry

Even if you consume as many books
by Ryokan

English version by John Stevens

Even if you consume as many books
As the sands of the Ganges
It is not as good as really catching
One verse of Zen.
If you want the secret of Buddhism,
Here it is: Everything is in the Heart!

— from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, Translated by John Stevens

/ Photo by guillermocarballa /

I was an academic sort of kid. As I entered high school I was part of a college-oriented program that attracted some truly brilliant students. And in my own oddball social circle, we were early 80s computer nerds. Since we were not athletes or at the top of the adolescent social pecking order, we had to find our own outcast sense of pride, our own currency of superiority — and ours was knowledge. Our conversations were stuffed with (often unnecessary) information about anything and everything, from scientific advances to computer programming shortcuts to pop culture trivia.

We thought of it as knowledge but, you know, it wasn’t. It was just data. Valuable, perhaps, in the right context, but it was not actual knowledge.

This is a particularly difficult thing for headblind modern society to really understand: Accumulated information is not the same thing as knowledge. By the time I left high school, I came to this unsettling conclusion. I had witnessed the brilliant and the information-saturated among my peers, and I felt that something crucial was still missing. I didn’t want to acquire information, I wanted to know.

That’s a serious dilemma to be wrestling with as you begin your university years. My grades plummeted as I questioned the very nature of learning and academic institutions in general. I dropped out of college — twice. In many ways, that’s when my real education began.

Even if you consume as many books
As the sands of the Ganges
It is not as good as really catching
One verse of Zen.

Especially in the spiritual realm, if we don’t understand this tension between information and knowledge, we run into serious problems with terrible repercussions for religion and culture. When we confuse knowledge of scripture with divine truth, we imagine that the letter of the law is the same as the spirit of the law. When the letter of the law is all we acknowledge, it becomes brittle, fragile, threatened by every social change and new perspective. Its greatest threat becomes the spirit of the law itself, for that stays active in the changing world, while the letter stays rigidly fixed. We stop looking deeply, living deeply, afraid of seeing a disconnect between the information of the written “truth,” and our knowledge of the living truth. This happens in the sciences as well as in religion.

Here’s a way of understanding that helps me to personally keep perspective: Any information that can be written in a book, stored in a computer, or committed to memory may be a hugely valuable tool — spiritual or practical — but it is only a tool, not real knowledge. It only gains its meaning through use. The meaning comes from what we create in the world and in ourselves with that information. The real value in every action and thought is discovered as it leads us back to the center of centers, for only there is true knowledge found.

If you want the secret of Buddhism,
Here it is: Everything is in the Heart!

Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

Japan (1758 – 1831) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

May 02 2014


We spend most of our lives striving so hard
to earn our own permission to be at rest
where we are
– when we could have done it all along.

No responses yet

Apr 30 2014

Andrew Colliver – The Further You Go

Published by under Poetry

The Further You Go
by Andrew Colliver

Mercy, there have been revelations.
Grace, there has been realisation. Still, you must
travel the path of time and circumstance.

The further you go, the more it comes back to paying attention.
The rough skin of the tallowwood, the trade routes of lorikeets, a sky lifting
behind afternoon clouds. Staying close to the texture of things.

People can go before you and talk all they want,
but only one thing makes sense: the way the world enters
and finds its voice in you: the place you are free.

/ Photo by Bunnis /

Mercy, there have been revelations.
Grace, there has been realisation. Still, you must
travel the path of time and circumstance.

Those opening lines say something so important, that just isn’t said often enough: Even with that sweet touch of mercy and grace, “Still, you must travel the path of time and circumstance.”

After being enrapt by such full, spacious silence, we are disoriented by the recognition that rent is still due, dishes still wait to be done. I think we so romanticize states of opening that we imagine all work and responsibility will step aside for us. Yet the world goes on and, if we’re not living in a forest or a cave, we must still answer its demands.

So then we start asking ourselves just what this revelation or realization actually means.

The further you go, the more it comes back to paying attention.

This poem suggests to me that our opening becomes its own practice. We discover a new sense of self which encounters the world more fully, with more fully engaged awareness, allowing something big to express itself through us in our simple daily activities.

In the collapse of our fantasies of enlightenment, we discover the opportunity live an embodied enlightenment, instead. The result may not look much like enlightenment at all. No robes, no blissfully glassy gaze, no gathering of disciples, just an ordinary person leading an ordinary life. Except that that ordinary life starts to ring with a certain quiet resonance. It touches and transforms. It sees the secret glistening beneath the world’s hard surfaces. It speaks with a new and truer voice.

Love those final lines:

People can go before you and talk all they want,
but only one thing makes sense: the way the world enters
and finds its voice in you: the place you are free.

…The way the world enters and finds its voice in you.

Andrew Colliver

Australia (1953 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Andrew Colliver is a psychiatric social worker working in rural New South Wales in Australia.

His major influences in writing are Mary Oliver and David Whyte, “with a dash of Rumi’s exuberance.”

When asked about the transcendent themes within his poetry, he says, “Poetry has always been a part of my reading, with occasional forays into writing, but for my own eyes only. Then, in 2006, the experience — now happening to thousands across the globe — of consciousness awakening to itself within the human form, began to up-end my life, and also to seek expression in words. Poems suggest themselves from the more profound experiences of awakeness, and what I do is then sculpt and refine them into something that I hope is intelligible to others. Ideas and words come most frequently when I’m in nature, but any setting can be seen at any time for what it is: the expression of undivided consciousness.”

More poetry by Andrew Colliver

One response so far

Apr 30 2014

a new way

Find a new way each day
to let love pour
through your being.

One response so far

Apr 25 2014

Behind the Scenes and Around the World

and though we seem
to be sleeping
there is an inner wakefulness
~ Rumi

I don’t say it often enough, but I want to thank you for the many wonderful, wise, touching, playful emails and blog comments I receive from you all each week. Although I can’t respond to them all individually, I read every one, and they make up an important part of my day. Your notes remind me why the Poetry Chaikhana is so important. And I am so grateful to be able to share my love of this poetry with such an engaged community.

During the past year, many of you have sent generous donations, either single donations or steady monthly donations, and it is such a great help — but I need to ask more of you to join in and support the Poetry Chaikhana. It is still challenging to dedicate as much time and energy as I do each week and still meet my family’s basic financial needs. As amazing as it sounds, more than 9,000 people are receiving this email! Together we can cover the expenses of one person (me) dedicating part of each day to sharing this amazing poetry.

Behind the Scenes

You may wonder what I’m actually doing here on the other end of these poetry emails. Here is a sketch of what my work with the Poetry Chaikhana looks like each morning. I thought you might find it interesting…

I often start my morning off with a meditation, and then I see which poem seems eager to speak that day. I let my computer suggest a poem at random, and then I try to sense if the poem is “right” for the day. Some mornings I select the first poem that comes up. Other days I’ll spend an hour sorting through possibilities. I try to make sure I have a good balance of spiritual traditions represented over the month. I also make a point of including women’s voices regularly. Occasionally I look for a series of poems that follow a sacred theme or metaphor.

Once I’ve selected the daily poem, I may spend some time researching the life of the poet so I can pass along a few biographical notes with the poem.

Then I sit with the poem, contemplate it, speak it aloud, let it dance in my mind, and I watch the ideas rise for my commentary. Occasionally I slip back into meditation and when I emerge the commentary is just waiting to be written out.

If I feel I’ve said too much in recent commentaries, I may choose to send the poem with just a short, friendly note. And sometimes I come across a poem with a comment I wrote a few years previously, and I think, “I have to share that with everyone again!”

Then I spend a while searching through photos and art among the Flickr or Deviantart “Creative Commons” libraries and look for one that somehow expresses an image or supports the feeling of the poem.

I also select a “Thought for the Day” from among a list I’ve written out over the years, and I find a music CD. And I select a card from the Dharma Gaia Card folks.

Then I update the Poetry Chaikhana home page and post the poem and commentary to the Poetry Chaikhana blog. I spend a while adding new sign-ups and removing cancellations from the email list. Finally, I format everything and send out the poem email.

The Poetry Chaikhana poem email now goes out to more than 9,000 people! It takes my computer more than 4 hours to send the poem email out each day.

Most days I also select a short poem or excerpt to post on the Poetry Chaikhana Facebook page. Sometimes two posts. I often post accompanying artwork, as well. We’ve got another 5,000 fans there.

I spend time each month looking for new voices of wisdom in books and on the Internet. I try to add new poems and poets regularly. I’ve become quite a speedy typist!

Some weeks I also have to spend time maintaining and troubleshooting the Poetry Chaikhana database and website. Occasionally, I have to wrangle with spam-blocker sites to convince them that the Poetry Chaikhana emails are not spam.

I get dozens of emails each week, sometimes hundreds — which I love! I read every email and, when I can, I send responses.

…And then I start my day job. Whew!

/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

Around the World

The results of that work is amazing to me. The Poetry Chaikhana has become a community that reaches across the globe.

Since the beginning of 2008 (when I first started tracking web statistics), the Poetry Chaikhana has had visits from more than 220 different countries and territories! Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Apr 23 2014

Hsu Yun – An Exquisite Truth

Published by under Poetry

An Exquisite Truth
by Hsu Yun

This is an exquisite truth:
Saints and ordinary folks are the same from the start.
Inquiring about a difference
Is like asking to borrow string
when you’ve got a good strong rope.
Every Dharma is known in the heart.
After a rain, the mountain colors intensify.
Once you become familiar with the design of fate’s illusions
Your ink-well will contain all of life and death.

/ Photo by mrcool256 /

I like what that opening statement says:

This is an exquisite truth:
Saints and ordinary folks are the same from the start.

Whether we’re talking about inspired reformers or shining examples of enlightenment, our instinct is to elevate great souls as unique phenomena. We assume they are somehow other than us. But the liberating truth is that saints are the same as everyone else. The only difference, if we want to call it a difference, is that they don’t cover up their nature as most of us have learned to do. We all have that same steady glow within us. A saint is simply someone who doesn’t damp it down.

Understood this way, the spiritual journey is not one of crushing effort to acquire virtues, to build wisdom, to learn love. We already have all that in abundance. The only work necessary is to let go of the assumptions that keep our true nature hidden.

Once you become familiar with the design of fate’s illusions
Your ink-well will contain all of life and death.

I think these are the lines I respond to the most. I don’t know about you, but I spent so much of my life as a teenager and young adult feeling disappointed with where I found myself in the world. I wanted something profound, adventurous, bursting with meaning. Instead, I had a very ordinary lower middle class American upbringing. I sabotaged my college education and decided to search for something deeper. Most of that search was a painful flailing about, but it did bring me adventures, both internal and external. I lived on Maui for several years, I lived at high elevations in the Rocky Mountains. I’ve been homeless. I’ve had friends in wheelchairs, friends with wealth. I’ve known hippies and bikers and techies and farmers.

While all of that makes for good stories, that ache for something extraordinary just fell away the moment I first settled into a sense of spiritual opening. With that dawning of peace, I also found rest… and a profound sense of self-acceptance. It wasn’t that I had somehow changed into someone new and extraordinary. Instead, I felt profoundly myself for the first time, profoundly my ordinary self. And I can’t describe how serenely blissful that recognition of ordinariness is. I no longer felt the constant need to struggle to attain the extraordinary; the simple, the plain stood revealed as a stunning work of art filling every day.

These lines by Hsu Yun about “fate’s illusions” remind me of how I spent the first three decades of my life struggling against my circumstances to find a fate with meaning, only to discover that the struggle was unnecessary. All I had to do was open my eyes. In every corner of the world, in every life, big and small, the entire mystery of life and death can be found.

After a rain, the mountain colors intensify.

Hsu Yun, Hsu Yun poetry, Buddhist poetry Hsu Yun

China (1839 – 1959) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

Continue Reading »

9 responses so far

Apr 23 2014


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

No responses yet

Apr 21 2014

Hakim Sanai – Bring all of yourself to his door

Published by under Poetry

Bring all of yourself to his door
by Hakim Sanai

English version by D.L. Pendlebury

Bring all of yourself to his door:
bring only a part,
and you’ve brought nothing at all.

— from The Walled Garden of Truth, by Hakim Sanai / Translated by David Pendlebury

/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

These few lines from Sanai aren’t particularly poetic. They aren’t filled with exotic and lovely imagery. Reading this short verse we don’t get that boost of uplifting energy we often seek in sacred poetry. Yet it resonates, doesn’t it?

I think these lines get to the core of what spiritual seeking is all about. What does it mean for us to bring all that we are to God’s door? If you prefer less theistic language, how do we stand fully before the Eternal Presence? This is the fundamental dilemma of every seeker.

The truth is that we are always before the Eternal Presence, but most of the time not much seems to be happening. The problem isn’t that God isn’t there, it’s that we are not there. Not fully. But what then does it mean to bring all of ourselves to that meeting?

We begin to wrestle with our own reflexes, trying so hard to be fully present, trying to bring our whole selves to the threshold — and yet we still hold back.

We each have a deep seated instinct to hide. We feel protected when we hide. To not be seen is to be safe. This is the entire purpose of the ego; we create a social mask behind which we hide ourselves. We gather our experiences, stitch them together with a narrative, and present that patchwork creation to the world, saying, “This is me. Don’t look any further.” The formulation and modification of this ego-mask becomes the primary work of most of our lives, and we too easily forget that we are not that mask, that we are, in fact, something much bigger and less easily defined. The act of hiding becomes institutionalized in the awareness. Only a rebellion can overcome this entrenched pattern in the awareness. But before that revolution can catch fire and spread throughout the psyche, we need to recognize the effects of this dynamic and we have to really decide that we don’t want to hide any more.

Now, we need to be clear with ourselves that there may very well be reasons to present a specific image of ourselves in social situations. Some parts are emphasized and others necessarily held back. Some aspects of our lives are appropriately private or sacred or vulnerable, and not to be casually shared.

Here’s the thing: That same valid self-protection mechanism becomes spiritually toxic when we try to hide aspects of ourselves from our own awareness… or from God. We need to drop those fig leaves that were a childish attempt to hide parts of ourselves from the All-Seeing.

The fulness of all that we are is much bigger than any neat story we want to pack it all into. We can’t truncate parts of ourselves to force a snug fit into the story we want to tell ourselves. We must dwell in our entirety. Anything else becomes self-dismemberment. We must claim all of our history, all our feelings and thoughts, the painful and the celestial all together.

And then we step up to the threshold. Hesitant, naked, vulnerable, we step up to God’s door, we enter the eternal present moment. That’s when the magic happens. The large, unwieldy collection of victories and wounds we’ve brought with us comes into focus for the first time and we have a vision of ourselves, our whole selves, alive and immense, integral within the living immense universe. That which we were hesitant to look at within ourselves becomes an image of beauty and, yes, majesty blissfully melting into the majestic Beauty all around us.

We all, on some level, crave this encounter precisely in order to heal the deep pain of separation. If we come with less than our whole selves, if we come with only fragments of our being, how then can we find healing?

Bring all of yourself to his door

Hakim Sanai

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

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Apr 21 2014


Build up a tolerance for the unknown.

How can you be at home in the immense, mysterious,
and formless Self,
when you are only at ease with what the mind has defined?

No responses yet

Apr 18 2014

Thomas Merton – The Sowing of Meanings

Published by under Poetry

The Sowing of Meanings
by Thomas Merton

See the high birds! Is their’s the song
That dies among the wood-light
Wounding the listener with such bright arrows?
Or do they play in wheeling silences
Defining in the perfect sky
The bounds of (here below) our solitude,

Where spring has generated lights of green
To glow in clouds upon the sombre branches?
Ponds full of sky and stillnesses
What heavy summer songs still sleep
Under the tawny rushes at your brim?

More than a season will be born here, nature,
In your world of gravid mirrors!
The quiet air awaits one note,
One light, one ray and it will be the angels’ spring:
One flash, one glance upon the shiny pond, and then
Asperges me! sweet wilderness, and lo! we are redeemed!

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power –
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

Until, in the amazing light of April,
Surcharging the religious silence of the spring,
Creation finds the pressure of His everlasting secret
Too terrible to bear.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light,
While the wild countryside, unknown, unvisited of men,
Bears sheaves of clean, transforming fire.

And then, oh then the written image, schooled in sacrifice,
The deep united threeness printed in our being,
Shot by the brilliant syllable of such an intuition, turns within,
And plants that light far down into the heart of darkness and oblivion,
Dives after, and discovers flame.

— from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton

/ Photo by NemanjaJ /

Where I live in Colorado we finally feel spring awakening, eager to awaken. The reviving world calls me to step out my front door, too stroll…

Ponds full of sky and stillnesses

…to see what is secretly waiting to blossom…

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power –
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

The question often comes up: What does that line about “asperges” mean? “Asperges” is a reference to the Catholic rite of sprinkling holy water on the congregation, especially associated with Easter mass. It comes from the first word (in Latin) of Psalms 51:9, which is traditionally chanted in Catholic masses during Easter. So Merton is making a reference to anointing, sanctification, purification, and Easter…

I hope you find a way to step into the awakening world this Easter weekend.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light…

Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Apr 18 2014

speaks to us

The Earth speaks to us,
and gives us a vocabulary
to speak back.

No responses yet

Apr 16 2014

Wendell Berry – The Peace of Wild Things

Published by under Poetry

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— from Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, by Wendell Berry

/ Photo by TheBroth3R /

My wife and I have been going for walks recently in an area called Roger’s Grove. The park has a small lake with a couple of islands at its center. It is a favorite spot for Canadian geese this time of year. As we stroll around the lake we sometimes see a gray heron standing in meditative stillness among the reeds along the banks. Most recently we noticed some new visitors: one and then two bright white pelicans, looking a bit awkward in form but moving with the grace of swans upon the lake’s surface.

Yesterday, we had an unexpected sight: Those two pelicans had become thirty pelicans! The lake was filled with these bright white beings! We walked around the lake in an awed daze. We watched as these stunning birds paddled around the lake in groups, tacking together in their movements, like a synchronized drifting dance, all gliding to the left and then, with some unseen signal, all turning right again. They even dipped their heads beneath the water all at once, sometimes several times in a row, down and up and down and up, a quiet undulation rippling through through group. They seemed to revel in this sleepy synchronicity of movement beneath the warming sun.

It was a magical moment. A healing moment. An encounter with the peace of wild things.

That’s just it– these, like all living beings, experience struggle, trauma, death, yet they continue to reside in the present moment and celebrate the bliss of a sweet afternoon when it is upon them. And in this way wild things are teachers to us all.

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I want to acknowledge what a potent month this is. We just had a full moon with an eclipse. Major planetary alignments occurring too. We are in the middle of Passover. And, for Christians, it is Holy Week leading up to Easter this Sunday. A time for renewal and reformulation of self and society.

Sending blessings and peace…

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

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

12 responses so far

Apr 16 2014

we learn the way

We learn the way
by knowing our hearts.

No responses yet

Apr 11 2014

Paramahansa Yogananda – Prayer for the Great Enlightenment

Published by under Poetry

Prayer for the Great Enlightenment
by Paramahansa Yogananda

O August God, Beloved Father, Oversoul of the Universe, Spirit of Spirits, Friend of Friends! unravel for me the mystery of my existence. Teach me to worship Thee in breathlessness, in sleeplessness, in deathlessness.

In the stillness of my soul, possess me; may I be conscious of Thine immortal presence in and around me. I yearn to know Thee, O secondless, O True Unique!

— from Whispers from Eternity, by Paramahansa Yogananda

Something for us today by the great 20th century ambassador or Indian spirituality, Paramahansa Yogananda.

unravel for me the mystery of my existence

As I reread this one line, it occurs to me that this is the heart of every prayer. This is the essential plea of every soul, whether one is religious or not. We all fundamentally feel this deep urge to discover who and what we are, what gives our lives meaning and purpose.

We humans are meaning-seeking creatures and, most importantly, we need to know how we ourselves fit within the landscape of meaning.

But we often don’t recognize how important meaning is to us. Meaning is more important than life and death. We all naturally and instinctively shy from death. But what is the most terrible form of death? Meaningless death. When we feel death has meaning, as the completion of a life that has had meaning, then death loses its sting. This might suggest to us that we should strive not so much to avoid death or loss, but we should live our lives passionately seeking meaning and the mystery of our existence, for then everything we experience, easy and difficult, serves a purpose and satisfies the hunger of the soul.

So, whether in prayer or in action or in attitude, we should be constantly calling out to the universe: “unravel for me the mystery of my existence.”

Teach me to worship Thee in breathlessness, in sleeplessness, in deathlessness.

Breathlessness, sleeplessness, deathlessness… Yogananda is here referring to common attributes of yogic samadhi. Samadhi is the yogic term for the ultimate union between the individual self and the Supreme Self. In this deepest meditative communion, the individual is often infused with a profoundly subtle air that renders the external breath less necessary. The breath may become so shallow that it completely stops or very nearly stops, and the body rests in a profound stillness.

As to sleeplessness, some yogis actually do not sleep. But, more broadly, this might be understood as the profound, continuing wakefulness of enlightened consciousness. The new awareness that one experiences in samadhi is like awakening from a lifelong sleep. To remain in this awakened awareness is to be “sleepless.”

And to be deathless… While there are certainly stories of deathless spiritual adepts in all traditions, spiritual deathlessness is not really describing someone whose body does not eventually die. With the profound awakening of samadhi, one is flooded with an utterly new sense of life. It is a state of being reborn or born anew. And though the body may yet experience illnesses, injuries, and eventually death, in this deepest communion you know yourself as beyond those experiences. Even when death claims the body in due course, you know well that it has no part of you. The body has its beginning and its ending, but you, in yourself, are simply as you are, without beginning or end. In the mystery of your existence, you dwell in an eternal state of being watching the phenomenal experiences pass through your awareness.

This is what we yearn to remember. Sincerely seeking this is true worship.

Paramahansa Yogananda, Paramahansa Yogananda poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Paramahansa Yogananda

India (1893 – 1952) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Apr 11 2014


A helping hand
is a holy thing.

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Apr 09 2014

Anna Swir – Happy as a Dog’s Tail

Published by under Poetry

Happy as a Dog’s Tail
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

Happy as something unimportant
and free as a thing unimportant.
As something no one prizes
and which does not prize itself.
As something mocked by all
and which mocks at their mockery.
As laughter without serious reason.
As a yell able to outyell itself.
Happy as no matter what,
as any no matter what.

as a dog’s tail.

— from Talking to My Body, by Anna Swir / Translated by Czeslaw Milosz

/ Photo by Ivan M. Granger /

I should start by apologizing for the unannounced hiatus in the poetry emails recently. Those of you who follow my personal Facebook page know that I celebrated a birthday last week, but it was followed quickly by the unexpected death of a beloved family dog named Koda. He was part of our family for nine years. Koda was a rescued dog with significant behavioral issues that made day-to-day life challenging for us. But he was also a very loving and loyal companion. Both my wife and I formed a strong bond with Koda, made stronger because of his special needs and the challenges they created in our life.

My wife and I needed time to grieve and celebrate and bless Koda’s passing.

…And I thought this poem by Anna Swir would be sweet, simple eulogy — a reminder of how happiness is so perfectly embodied by a dog’s wagging tail.

Give your loved ones (those with a tail and those who are tailless) a big hug today.

Anna Swir, Anna Swir poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Anna Swir

Poland (1909 – 1984) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Anna Swir

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