Jan 22 2021

Civivakkiyar – In bricks and in granite

Published by under Poetry

In bricks and in granite
by Civivakkiyar

English version by Kamil V. Zvelebil

In bricks and in granite,
in the red-rubbed lingam,
in copper and brass
is Siva’s abode —
      that’s what you tell us,
      and you’re wrong.
Stay where you are
and study your own selves.
Then you will BECOME
the Temple of God,
      full of His dance and spell
            and song.

— from The Poets of the Powers: Freedom, Magic, and Renewal, Translated by Kamil V. Zvelebil


/ Image by Natesh Ramasamy /

I have always loved the poetry of Civivakkiyar since I first discovered it years ago. There is a directness that is at times blunt, along with a teasing quality, and underlying it all a radiant realization that rises up through the words. Even his name, Civivakkiyar, feels like poetry on the tongue.

This poem exhibits the Tamil Siddha opposition to orthodoxy and mindless ritualism — which tend to externalize God, separating the individual from the presence of the Divine. Civivakkiyar is proclaiming that God (Siva) is not only found in temples and objects of worship, places and things that have been separated out and defined as sacred. Not “in bricks and in granite,” not in the “lingam” (a common representation of Siva), not in the ritual objects of “copper and brass.”

To say that God is in the temple or the altar or the icon and not elsewhere impoverishes us spiritually. That perspective makes us strangers to the presence of the sacred, which is everywhere, always.

The truth is that God is not ‘out there’ (wherever we imagine ‘there’ to be). The Divine is right here, right now, within us:

Stay where you are
and study your own selves.
Then you will BECOME
the Temple of God…

It is only within ourselves that we find the proper ground to worship and ultimately encounter God, whether we stand in the temple precinct, or the marketplace, the forest grove, or the office space.

When we stop running from sacred place to sacred place and, instead, finally recognize the living sacred presence everywhere — and most especially within ourselves — then we experience such an uninhibited flow of life and delight that we become filled with the eternal “dance and spell / and song.”


Recommended Books: Civivakkiyar

The Poets of the Powers: Freedom, Magic, and Renewal


Civivakkiyar

India (9th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Jan 22 2021

by default

If you are not intensely dedicated
to a high ideal,
then comfort becomes your goal by default
and every difficulty becomes a crisis.

No responses yet

Jan 15 2021

Poetry Chaikhana Publications

I don’t often talk about book sales, but I thought I’d let you know that two Poetry Chaikhana publications — Haiku Enlightenment and The Longing in Between — have been selling well since the end of 2020. Haiku Enlightenment has been in the top 100 best selling haiku books on Amazon, and The Longing in Between has been hovering in the top 100 or 200 for poetry anthologies. Amazing! I love to see these book circulating, carrying their wild, illuminating poetry out into the world. A great deal of thanks is due to you, the Poetry Chaikhana community, for your steady support and encouragement through the years.

One response so far

Jan 15 2021

Mary Oliver – In Blackwater Woods

Published by under Poetry

In Blackwater Woods
by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

— from American Primitive, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by Claudio /

This is one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver. It speaks to so many levels of the human experience.

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light…

Those opening lines draw me in every time I read them. They remind me that nature, too, is a heavenly realm. But there is also the beginning hint of loss here, something evanescent and fleeting. It is as if these trees, in their glow, are fading from the physical world, receding from us. It is a lovely, melancholy sort of transcendence.

Lines in this poem also suggest to me, at times, formless awareness:

and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.

Notice the intentional ambiguity of that final line break above. She could be saying that the ponds are now nameless, or that they are nameless Now, nameless Presence. Contemplating that double meaning can throw the mind into meditation.

She uses a similar line break immediately preceding that: “name is, is”. The break forces us unconsciously to think of how no matter what a place (or person) is named, it IS. It’s existence is undeniable, not somehow dependent on human definitions or categories or names. The line break tricks the mind into contemplating the relationship between pure being and our mental categorization of existence.

But the part of the poem that touches me most is the courageous willingness to embrace both connection and loss:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

New and Selected Poems Why I Wake Early Dream Work House of Light Thirst: Poems
More Books >>


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

US (1935 – 2019) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Jan 15 2021

what we love

We become what we love.

Everything else is just movement.

No responses yet

Jan 08 2021

Namdev – The drum with no drumhead beats

Published by under Poetry

The drum with no drumhead beats
by Namdev

English version by Nirmal Dass

The drum with no drumhead beats;
clouds thunder without the monsoon;
rain falls without clouds.
Can anyone guess this riddle?

I have met Ram the beautiful,
and I too have become beautiful.

The philosopher’s stone turns lead into gold;
costly rubies I string with my words and thoughts.
I discovered real love; doubts, fears have left me.
I found comfort in what my guru taught me.

A pitcher will fill when plunged in water,
so Ram is the One in all.
The guru’s heart and the disciple’s heart are one.
Thus has the slave Namdeva perceived Truth.

— from Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth, Translated by Nirmal Dass


/ Image by Waywuwei /

Namdev starts this song with a riddle: a drum sound “with no drumhead”, and “thunder without the monsoon”… We have the reverberation, but without an initiating event. In deep meditation an inner sound is heard resonating everywhere. In various Indian traditions this primal sound is called shabd or omkara.

And his riddle also tells us that “rain falls without clouds.” The rain that falls is amrita, the bliss-filled drink of divine communion. This is an actual substance, though a subtle one. When the mind is entirely clear and purified (“without clouds”), this “rain” descends from the sky-bowl of the skull, touching the tongue with indescribable sweetness, warming the heart, and filling the awareness with a transcendent joy.

Try rereading the poem with that sense of inner meaning. Read slowly this time, savoring it, feeling what this ecstatic saint is really saying. “The drum with no drumhead beats…” Do you hear it quietly resonating within your own settling awareness? “Clouds thunder without the monsoon…”

Here are my favorite lines:

I have met Ram the beautiful,
and I too have become beautiful.

In this state of bliss and profound unity, we recognize that we ourselves, as individual beings, are a pure emptiness, without any substance of our own. Finally seeing this, we recognize ourselves as being of the same nature as the Divine Reality we witness — and that presence is vast, radiant, whole, and “beautiful.” It is beautiful, and we too are that beauty!

It is as if by touching something utterly whole and perfect, all of our imperfections and divisions are dispelled by that total vision.

The philosopher’s stone turns lead into gold

It is that contact that transmutes the “lead” of the fragmented ego identity into the “gold” of unbounded awakened awareness.

I discovered real love; doubts, fears have left me…

In such an immense ocean of “real love” and the wholeness of gnosis, one’s underlying existential doubts and fears dissolve.

A pitcher will fill when plunged in water

This is a reference to popular yogic metaphor. The individual ego-self is like a leaky pitcher that requires constant refilling to keep even a small amount of water in it. The only way to fill it up is to toss it into the ocean. The pitcher is for the finally filled with water, surrounded by water. The separating walls of the ego become meaningless, since the water of that divine consciousness is both inside and outside with no difference… Suddenly we see a world of drowned pitchers, the same water filling and surrounding everything.

Ram is the One in all.

=

It is a new year, and that is always a time for hope, yet many problems remain unresolved, accompanied by much anger. It is easy to get caught up in the escalations of outrage. I am focusing my life to meet the uncertain road ahead with a combination of practicality, flexibility, and engaged love. Meditation and poetry are two excellent ways to continuously return to the heart that we may know the way forward.

Blessings to you all in the new year!


Recommended Books: Namdev

Songs of the Saints from the Adi Granth Namdev, His Mind and Art: A linguistic Analysis of Namdev’s Poetry Hindi Padavali of Namdev


Namdev, Namdev poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Namdev

India (1270 – 1350) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Vaishnava (Krishna/Rama)
Sikh

Continue Reading »

No responses yet

Jan 08 2021

learn the way

We learn the way
by knowing our hearts.

No responses yet

Dec 11 2020

Symeon the New Theologian – We awaken in Christ’s body

Published by under Poetry

We awaken in Christ’s body
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Stephen Mitchell

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

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


/ Image by rpphotos /

Since we are coming into the Christmas season, I thought I would take the opportunity to share one of my favorite poems by Symeon the New Theologian.

Symeon doesn’t urge us to merely honor or love the Beloved (Christ within the Christian tradition) from a distance. We melt into the Divine, become one with the Divine, share the same body.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

Some of these lines remind me of the poem attributed to Teresa of Avila, You Are Christ’s Hands with it’s lines– “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, / no hands but yours…”

This poem by Symeon is one I just want to drink in — it feels so deeply healing and generous to the soul.

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Thinking of Christmas, I have always felt a particular love for manger scenes, ceramic, porcelain, or carved wooden figurines of the Christ Child laid in a bed of straw, Mary knelt over her new child, Joseph with his lamp, the Three Magi holding their gifts, a shepherd with a few sheep, an ox and an ass at rest. Often the scene has a hut-like manger as background, the roof covered with moss — with the announcing angel and the Christmas star shining above. That iconic scene has always felt magical and alive to me, rich with unspoken meaning.

And it is. We can read the gospel stories of the birth of Christ as simply describing events, or we can read it more deeply as being imbued with spiritual meaning.

In the Nativity, we discover the pure spark of light that is the Christ child — also represented by the star — surrounded by the emptiness of the night. The Nativity is an image of light in the darkness. A small child, vulnerable, humble, poor, a tiny point of existence, surrounded by the immensity of the night… but with the promise that the light will increase until it floods the world with its light. (It is no accident that Christmas is set near the Winter Solstice, when the world is plunged in darkness and awaits the rebirth of the sun.)

Looking at Mary and Joseph, one way to understand Mary in the Nativity story is that she represents the heart or the soul, while Joseph represents the intellect. From this perspective, the gospel story of the virgin birth takes on ever deeper dimensions.

In the mystical tradition, the soul must first stop attempting to take false lovers through every outer experience, and yearn so deeply for the true Beloved within that she (the soul) becomes restored to her natural “untouched” state (Mary’s virginity). That is, the soul must become purified, inward focused, unattached, “untouched” by the experiences of the outer world. Mary’s virginity is a virginity of awareness.

When this happens deeply enough, the divine touch comes, and a new life (the Christ child in Christian tradition) is formed within the soul. The overwhelming sense of joy and spiritual bliss that is felt becomes a new presence in the body and mind.

But the father of this new life is not Joseph. The heart does not conceive by the intellect, but through direct communion with the Eternal. At this stage, the intellect has a choice: Retreat into cold denial, proclaiming, ‘I do not know that child’ and reject the heart and the life it carries; or it can recognize that something deeply sacred is taking place, something not of its own making, and then take responsibility and provide for the growth and maturation of that inner illumination.

In this way, the Christian gospel drama is played out in you and me and in all devout mystics. This isn’t something experienced only by Christians; here, we are simply using Christian language to describe a universal mystical experience…

In the traditional iconography, we see the infant Christ on a bed of straw in a manger surrounded by animals. In the gospel tale, two animals are mentioned specifically: an ox and an ass. Why those two animals? Esoteric Christian teachings sometimes explain it this way: the ox (an ancient symbol of Venus), represents sensuality and passion; the ass can be seen as embodying either the ego or reason. What are they doing in this image of divine birth? Notice that they are not suppressed; the ox and ass are not chained or slaughtered. No, they rest, they are at peace, tamed by the presence of spiritual light. More than that, they are actually protecting the infant, giving him their strength. As one 20th century Christian teacher phrased it, “They are warming the Christ child with their breath.” Viewed this way, the nativity gives us an image not of suppression, but of integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.

There is, of course, much more to explore. The cave or manger of the birth. The three Magian wise men from the east. But I hope I have suggested some good ideas to contemplate and inspire a bit more spiritual connection this Christmas.

he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Wishing each and every one of you a beautiful Christmas, Hanukkah, and Solstice. May this time when the light renews itself amidst the darkness also bring a renewal of the light and life within you and everyone your life touches.


Recommended Books: Symeon the New Theologian

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives
More Books >>


Symeon the New Theologian, Symeon the New Theologian poetry, Christian poetry Symeon the New Theologian

Turkey (949 – 1032) Timeline
Christian : Eastern Orthodox

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Dec 11 2020

strength to stand

Don’t resent the work.
It gives you the strength to stand
whole and silent
before the Mystery.

No responses yet

Dec 04 2020

Mary Oliver – What is There Beyond Knowing?

Published by under Poetry

What is There Beyond Knowing?
by Mary Oliver

What is there beyond knowing that keeps
calling to me? I can’t

turn in any direction
but it’s there. I don’t mean

the leaves’ grip and shine or even the thrush’s
silk song, but the far-off

fires, for example,
of the stars, heaven’s slowly turning

theater of light, or the wind
playful with its breath;

or time that’s always rushing forward,
or standing still

in the same — what shall I say —
moment.

What I know
I could put into a pack

as if it were bread and cheese, and carry it
on one shoulder,

important and honorable, but so small!
While everything else continues, unexplained

and unexplainable. How wonderful it is
to follow a thought quietly

to its logical end.
I have done this a few times.

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
and the weeds.

— from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by rema1n5 /

I don’t think I’ll say much about this poem today, just encourage you to read it again, savoring its words…

heaven’s slowly turning
theater of light

and its imagery…

But mostly I just stand in the dark field,
in the middle of the world, breathing

in and out. Life so far doesn’t have any other name
but breath and light, wind and rain.

and finding the peace and self-acceptance held within.

If there’s a temple, I haven’t found it yet.
I simply go on drifting, in the heaven of the grass
and the weeds.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

New and Selected Poems Why I Wake Early Dream Work House of Light Thirst: Poems
More Books >>


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

US (1935 – 2019) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Dec 04 2020

Like water

Like water, yield
and so find your destination.

No responses yet

Nov 29 2020

Holiday Poetry Book Recommendations 2020

It has been a challenging year for most of us, I know. As we approach the winter holidays, our normal celebratory feeling is muted. We are more cautious about big family gatherings. Economic times are uncertain for many. And the new year remains unknown. But we can choose to use this as a time of spiritual opportunity. So much that we have taken for granted — in the world around us and within ourselves — has been losing its rigid certainty. When things return to a formless and changing state, that is when the greatest potential is available to us. This is a time for dreaming as new patterns form and take shape. And what better time to dream than in the deep of winter? Let us cultivate new visions for who we are and who we are becoming. Let us rediscover our native voices.

I strongly believe that poetry is one of the most powerful, resonant tools for the spirit to reach out into the world. Words and images, rhythms and silences, these expand our awareness, they shift our focus, they open our hearts — and we, in turn, inevitably affect the world around us.

So consider treating yourself to some enlightening moments of poetry this winter. Offer it as a transformative and healing gift to your family and friends. Watch as it works its magic within you and the world around you.

“Poetry has an immediate effect on the mind. The simple act of reading poetry alters thought patterns and the shuttle of the breath. Poetry induces trance. Its words are chant. Its rhythms are drumbeats. Its images become the icons of the inner eye. Poetry is more than a description of the sacred experience; it carries the experience itself.”


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

Poetry Chaikhana Publications

Of course, we have to start with the Poetry Chaikhana’s books!

To satisfy that longing (or awaken it)…

The Longing in Between

Sacred Poetry from Around the World
A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

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

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

The Longing in Between is a work of sheer beauty. Ivan M. Granger has done a great service, not only by bringing [these poems] to public attention, but by opening their deeper meaning with his own rare poetic and mystic sensibility.”

ROGER HOUSDEN
author of the best-selling Ten Poems to Change Your Life series




READ MOREPURCHASE


This Dance of Bliss, Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology, Ivan M. Granger


This Dance of Bliss

Ecstatic Poetry From Around the World

A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This Dance of Bliss is an inspiring collection of poems and wisdom stories from the world’s great sacred traditions. Rumi, St. John of the Cross, Lalla, Goethe, Hildegard von Bingen, Dogen, Khayyam, and many others gather together within these pages to sing their ecstatic songs.

Ivan M. Granger accompanies each poem with his own reflections and meditative commentaries, inviting us to explore the insights and private raptures of these mystics, seers, and saints-until we too are swept up in this dance of bliss!

This book is a treasure, a feast, an oasis. Ivan M. Granger’s profound gift for selecting the kind of poetry that lights up the cave of the heart and melts the boundaries between the soul and the Divine is fully met by his lucid reflections on the soul-transfiguring power of each piece in this magnificent collection.

MIRABAI STARR
author of God of Love: A Guide to the Heart of Judaism, Christianity & Islam


READ MOREPURCHASE

Haiku Enlightenment, Gabriel Rosenstock

Haiku Enlightenment
New Expanded Edition

by Gabriel Rosenstock


PURCHASE



   

or ask at your local independent book store

Haiku Enlightenment is a delightful, often playful look at haiku as both a poetic craft and a pathway of awakening – for poets, seekers and creative rebels.

Gabriel Rosenstock has given us a rich collection of insights, distilled from a lifetime dedicated to the art and practice of poetry, on stepping into inspired moments. Using a generous selection of contemporary and classical haiku, he explores ideas of creativity and perception, encouraging us to calm the restless mind, notice what is overlooked, explore the world around us, and fully encounter each glowing moment.

From such moments, haiku – and enlightenment – emerge.

Haiku happens in this world of daily miracles and is a perfect prism through which Nature herself enlightens us.
– Gabriel Rosenstock, from Haiku Enlightenment

READ MORE

the moon    
has found it for me    
a mountain path    

    Michael McClintock   

    the body of the Buddha
    accepts it–
    winter rain

         Issa


Gathering Silence

Sayings by Ivan M. Granger
Collages by Rashani Réa

All of mysticism comes down to this:
to recognize
what is already
and always here.

Gathering Silence is a collection of meditative sayings and bits of poetry, accompanied throughout by stunning full-color artwork by internationally-known collage artist, Rashani Réa. This is beautiful book, filled with color, creative thoughts, and meditative moments. Perfect for an altar or meditation space, by your bed or on a coffee table. A wonderful gift for family, friends, and fellow seekers!

READ MOREPURCHASE

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

Introduction by Andrew Harvey

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

READ MORE
PURCHASE


This year I thought I would change things up a bit with a more personal list. Rather than giving you a list of general gift suggestions, I thought why not create a list of the sacred poetry books that have meant the most to me at key points in my life.

I had a pleasant afternoon going through my bookshelves, pulling books I’ve loved, remembering key moments in my journeys of spiritual and poetic exploration, until I was surrounded by stacks of cherished books. I thought, this is it! This will be my holiday recommended book list this year. It was only when I then went back and checked my holiday book lists from the previous few years that I realized I have been recommending many of these personally beloved books all along. So here they are (again): my list of books recommended for the holidays, books that have opened doorways in my mind and heart, awakening a deep love of poetry as a way to express the ineffable. I hope these books will mean something special to you and your loved ones these holidays…

A Sampling of Sufi Wisdom…

Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom
By Andrew Harvey and Eryk Hanut

Something about Andrew Harvey’s selections and translations always strike a pure note. This book is a delightful collection of poetry and Sufi wisdom stories. Rumi, Kabir, al-Hallaj, Shabistari, Ansari… This is one I return to again and again.

Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir
Renditions by Vraje Abramian

I read this book early in my exploration of Sufi poetry — and I was hooked! Abu Said Abil-Kheir’s poetry ranges from the ecstatic and celestial, to struggles with abandonment. His poetry has an immediacy and even a sort of devoutly wry petulance. This book remains a personal favorite of mine.

For the wise woman…

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

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

Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar
by Elizabeth U. Harding

Not really a poetry collection, but this was the book that first introduced me to the fierce and passionate poetry of the great Kali devotees, like Ramprasad and Kalamakanta. Elisabeth Harding has done a beautiful job of gathering together Kali lore and presenting it to a primarily Western audience, while remaining reverent toward Kali and traditions of Kali worship. She discusses the traditional symbolism of Kali and the shocking, violent images associated with Her. Kali emerges in the reader’s mind as the loving destroyer of illusion, ecstatic slayer of demonic qualities.

For illumination…

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry
Edited by Stephen Mitchell

This is a compact anthology, but a wonderful collection that includes Li Po, Wu-Men, Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai, Rilke… And the added bonus of Stephen Mitchell’s way with words. One of my personal favorites.

The Illuminated Rumi
Translations by Coleman Barks
Art by Michael Green

I keep recommending this year after year. It is a beautiful gift book with excerpts of Rumi’s poetry accompanied by amazing digital collage artwork that draws you deeply into each page. This book entrances on several levels. An excellent gift book.



For the Christian contemplative…

The Book of Mystical Chapters:
Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives
Translated and Introduced by John Anthony McGuckin

This is the book that, years ago, introduced me to the stunning poetry of Symeon the New Theologian, igniting my passion for his visionary poetry of light and transformation. You’ll also find poems and poetic renditions of writings from many other saints and mystics of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Still a favorite of mine.

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton
by Thomas Merton

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

Hadewijch: The Complete Works
Translations by Mother Columba Hart

I was introduced to the divine love poetry of the Flemish mystic Hadewijch in the excellent anthology Women in Praise of the Sacred, edited by Jane Hirshfield. I knew I had encountered a something amazing, but the sampling in that book was frustratingly small. I finally found this book with the complete works of this mysterious Beguine spiritual figure — visions, letters, and a beautiful collection of sacred poetry. The love mysticism of her poetry rightly draws comparisons to the rich traditions of Sufi and Bhakti poetry.



For the Jewish mystic…

The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse
Edited and Translated by T. Carmi

The most complete collection I’ve found of sacred Hebrew poetry, including Judah ha Levi, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Samuel Hanagid, the early Hekhalot Hymns, and many more. My only complaint: the translations in this encyclopedic collection are not versified, even though the Hebrew originals were. I still love it simply because it pointed me in a dozen enlightening different directions.

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

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



A moment of Zen…

The Zen Poetry of Dogen: Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace
Translations by Steven Heine

Although best known for his Zen discourses and his role establishing Zen practice in Japan, Dogen was an exceptional poet too. Quiet moments of insight expressed in a bare minimum of lines. One of my favorites.

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

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

Sun at Midnight: Muso Soseki – Poems and Sermons
Translations by W. S. Merwin and Soiku Shigematsu

A friend introduced me to this collection, and I was entranced. Muso Soseki is known today for establishing rock gardening as meditative Zen practice, but his poetry — wonderful! And with translations by WS Merwin, you can’t ask for more!

(And don’t forget the Poetry Chaikhana’s publication of Gabriel Rosenstock’s, Haiku Enlightenment!)



Artist, Therapist, Shaman…

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

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



Transcendent Hindu verses…

Speaking of Siva
Translated by A. K. Ramanujan

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

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

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

And for blessings…

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

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

For even more book recommendations, click here.


(Every year my list gets longer. Even so, I had to leave off so many amazing books.)



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

I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday season — and that the new year offers you new life and new inspiration!

Ivan

No responses yet

Nov 20 2020

Mirabai – Out in a downpour

Published by under Poetry

Out in a downpour
by Mirabai

English version by Andrew Schelling

Out in a downpour
in a sopping wet
skirt.
And you have gone to a distant country.
Unbearable heart,
letter after letter
just asking when,
my lord, when
      are you coming?

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


/ Image by jarr1520 /

I don’t know what it is about this imagery, but this poem has stuck with me ever since I first read it. A woman standing out in a downpour and not caring, consumed by a great and terrible love — it is like a scene from a classic film. Visceral, intimate, yet epic.

(This picture I found doesn’t do justice to the image in my mind. I see something in black-and-white. A lovely young Indian woman, the camera looking down upon her, as she lifts her face and opens her arms to the downpour. And the open-mouthed expression I see on her face, is it one of pain? Or the beginning of laughter? Or a feral combination of the two…?)

We are witnessing a moment in a great love story. But this is Mirabai, and her beloved is God.

Often we like our saints and sages to be born in stable, perfect enlightenment, a simple picture with no struggle or drama, never having sensed separation. But that pain of separation, desperately looking for the lost love, is essential for the flowering of full self-awareness and true union.

And you have gone to a distant country.

That sense of separation — separation from God, separation from Source, separation from Home — is the fundamental pain of the soul. Every life pain, when we really trace its tendrils, reaches down to that root pain. The basic belief of separation from the Eternal. Every hunger, every craving, is an attempt to spread a thin layer of pleasure, or at least comfort, over that pain. Every self-inflicted hurt is an attempt to overpower that great ache with the sharp intensity of the moment. Most actions, when carefully dissected, are an attempt to distract ourselves from that terrible emptiness.

You can see that so much of our life force is spent in avoidance, avoidance of confrontation with that gulf between the individual and the Eternal.

letter after letter…

Most people look away, spend all their life running from that canyon of separation. But the mystic sits on the cliff edge and, though frightened, stares endlessly into the great space… until suddenly an amazing thing happens — in a flash the emptiness is seen to be not a distance but a connection, a joining. The gulf is itself the bridge spanning the distance, and we discover that we can walk upon it, that there was, in fact, never any separation or distance.

It is the very intensity of our yearning that is finally recognized as the point of connection with the Eternal. And then the pain flips, turning to such sweetness.

Next time it rains, don’t run for cover. Step out in the downpour, feel what it’s like to be drenched!


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 The Winged Energy of Delight Songs of the Saints of India
More Books >>


Mirabai, Mirabai poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Mirabai

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

Continue Reading »

4 responses so far

Nov 20 2020

to find perfection

To find its perfection
the soul must reveal
its imperfections.

One response so far

Nov 13 2020

Ivan M. Granger – The Warbler Knows

Published by under Poetry

The Warbler Knows
by Ivan M. Granger

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

Forgetting false future
suns, she sings

in no voice
but her own.

— from Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey, by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by B W /

I know this feels like a difficult time for many of us. New Covid lockdowns as we approach the winter months, holidays that feel uncharacteristically isolated, a US presidential election that is over but without a smooth transition of power, and more economic uncertainties. Anxiety is high. Depression is not uncommon. Everyone is facing some form of struggle in this period. I would like to remind us all to be kind toward one another — and kind toward ourselves. Compassion and being willing to help when we can will help us through.

It is useful to think of this period as a sort of doubled winter, an enforced time of inturning, reflection, and inner work. We can either exhaust ourselves by fighting the larger pattern or we can work with it, use it. This is a good time for meditation and rediscovering our purpose, so that, when the thaw comes, we can step out into the world renewed and strengthened.

Another important reminder is that even amidst the darkest days, the light we seek we carry within ourselves. The dark days are the best days to recognize that light, to tend to it and help it to grow.

So I thought today I would share a poem of light and renewal, one of my own poems…

=

Dawn is the flood of light that comes from the east which causes us to awaken. When we allow ourselves to become fully aware of this sacred state, we know nothing else, see nothing else; the spiritual dawn engulfs all, enlightening everything.

And we experience this state most strongly in the breast, a warming and radical opening and deep centering in the heart.

Utterly content in the eternal present, we forget the mind’s endless fantasies and fears about the future. All the future ever can be is an extension of the present, and it is here, now that we reside — always.

Recognizing this, we settle into silence, “no voice.” Yet a song emerges from the stillness, nonetheless. The voice that sings is not the mind or the ego, but the presence quietly and eternally seated behind those fluctuating elements; it is the deeply familiar voice the true Self.

The poet Gabriel Rosenstock translated this poem into the Irish language —

Ní heol don cheolaire
ach maide gréine
an mhaidneachain
ar a brollach.

Dearúdann sí na bréag-ghrianta
a thiocfaidh, ní chanann

i nguth ar bith
ach ina guth féin.

Something about reading this poem in an unfamiliar language makes me smile. It’s like seeing an old friend through new eyes.


Recommended Books: Ivan M. Granger

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania
More Books >>


Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

US (1969 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Nov 13 2020

most sacred place

You live in the most sacred place
in the universe:
right here,
right now.

One response so far

Oct 30 2020

William Wordsworth – Thus while the days flew by

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Thus while the days flew by, and years passed on (from The Prelude, Book 2)
by William Wordsworth

Thus while the days flew by, and years passed on,
From Nature and her overflowing soul,
I had received so much, that all my thoughts
Were steeped in feeling; I was only then
Contented, when with bliss ineffable
I felt the sentiment of Being spread
O’er all that moves and all that seemeth still;
O’er all that, lost beyond the reach of thought
And human knowledge, to the human eye
Invisible, yet liveth to the heart;
O’er all that leaps and runs, and shouts and sings,
Or beats the gladsome air; o’er all that glides
Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself,
And mighty depth of waters. Wonder not
If high the transport, great the joy I felt,
Communing in this sort through earth and heaven
With every form of creature, as it looked
Towards the Uncreated with a countenance
Of adoration, with an eye of love.
One song they sang, and it was audible,
Most audible, then, when the fleshly ear,
O’ercome by humblest prelude of that strain
Forgot her functions, and slept undisturbed.

— from Complete Poetical Works, by William Wordsworth


/ Image by Justin Kern /

Fires have been burning here in Colorado and last week we were busily preparing for the possibility of having to evacuate. Firefighters, helped at times by the weather, were eventually able to contain the two fires closest to us, though major fires are still causing terrible destruction elsewhere in the state. I know people who have lost cherished family homes. Entire communities have been uprooted. And, of course, these fires are devastating to the wildlife and the beautiful land itself. I know California, Oregon and other western states have been going through similar ordeals. Heartbreaking.

Thinking about these fires returns me to my love of the natural world, reminding me what nature represents, how it expresses the divine vastness and interconnectedness.

From Nature and her overflowing soul,
I had received so much…

This is a poem worth repeating. Speak it aloud. Feel the sound of it resonating in the air.

when with bliss ineffable
I felt the sentiment of Being spread
O’er all that moves and all that seemeth still;
O’er all that, lost beyond the reach of thought
And human knowledge, to the human eye
Invisible, yet liveth to the heart;
O’er all that leaps and runs, and shouts and sings,
Or beats the gladsome air; o’er all that glides
Beneath the wave, yea, in the wave itself,
And mighty depth of waters.

…beats the gladsome air…

When we remember, we recognize the natural world as the foundational ground upon which our endless physical and mental creations rest. It is the deep green embrace which is our shared home.

Communing in this sort through earth and heaven
With every form of creature, as it looked
Towards the Uncreated with a countenance
Of adoration, with an eye of love.
One song they sang

It is where we rediscover our song within the upraised voice of life.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: William Wordsworth

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Complete Poetical Works William Wordsworth: Selected Poems
More Books >>


William Wordsworth, William Wordsworth poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Wordsworth

England (1770 – 1850) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Next »