Jul 01 2022

Poetry Chaikhana Move Updates

Poetry Chaikhana Move Updates

I want to say how profoundly touched I am by the many messages I have received wishing me well through this upcoming move. I haven’t been able to respond to every note, but I have read them all. Here is something I wrote to someone else also going through a move that I thought might be worth sharing:

“So much goes into a move, doesn’t it? It is not just planning and boxing and cleaning. A move becomes a sort of life review. We sift through all the things we have accumulated, furniture, books, mementos, every little thing that fills our living spaces. Each item reminds us of a memory, a time we purchased it, or when it was given to us. It can be an emotional process, reminding us of the stories of our lives, asking us what from our past we want to carry forward into the next phase.”

It’s a bit of a whirlwind around here right now, but we are so looking forward to this new phase, both personally and with the Poetry Chaikhana. We’re trying to catch the current in the midst of all the activity…

We have raised nearly two thirds of our $5,000 goal to help with the move!

The donations coming in to help with this move have been so generous! Many donations of $10, $20 and $30 have come in, along with several donations of larger amounts. I know that sometimes the smallest contributions mean the most, because they are often the most difficult to send. I am grateful to you all!

If you are still thinking of making a contribution — it is certainly welcome. It would be wonderful to reach that $5,000 goal. But if finances are too tight to send something right now, I genuinely understand. Your good wishes help too. And a friendly note of support arriving in my in-box or in the mail is always a welcome sight!

Thank you so much, everyone, for your help and encouragement through this big move. I look forward to working with you and watching the Poetry Chaikhana adapt and change in its new home!


3 responses so far

Jul 01 2022

Jacopone da Todi – As air carries light

As air carries light poured out by the rising sun
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Ivan M. Granger

As air carries light poured out by the rising sun,
As the candle spills away beneath the flame’s touch,
So too does the soul melt when ignited by light,
      its will now gone.
Lost within this light,
      the soul, dying to itself, in majesty lives on.

Why fish among the waves for wine
Spilled into the sea?
It has become the ocean.
Can wine once mingled be drawn again from water?
So it is with the soul drowned in light:
Love has drunk it in,
changed it, mixed it with truth,
      until it is entirely new.

The soul is willing and yet unwilling,
For there is nothing the soul now seeks,
save for this beauty!
No longer does it hunger or grasp,
      so emptied by such sweetness.
This supreme summit of the soul rises
      from a nothingness shaped
      and set within the Lord.

— from This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, Edited by Ivan M. Granger

/ Image by Dulcey Lima /

As air carries light poured out by the rising sun,
As the candle spills away beneath the flame’s touch,
So too does the soul melt when ignited by light…

With these recognizable images, we begin to get an idea of how the soul is transformed in exalted states. Flooded by the light of illumination, we, like wax near a fire, melt. The self is no longer a fixed, hardened thing, but something fluid and formless. In this dynamic state, the soul loses its dull opacity, becoming clear, allowing the light to shine through it.

Lost within this light,
      the soul, dying to itself, in majesty lives on.

The old, inanimate self melts away, becoming a new and fluid being that expresses itself through yielding. In its yielding, the soul discovers its real life.

So it is with the soul drowned in light:
Love has drunk it in,
changed it, mixed it with truth,
      until it is entirely new

The spiritual concept of surrendering the will is difficult to accept in any age, but especially so in the modern era when accomplishment through aggressive exercise of the will is idolized.

The soul is willing and yet unwilling…

The most immediate objection is that without will, we can do nothing. On a certain level, we prove our existence by acting in the world, right?

When deeply examined, however, the will is revealed to be more complex than we might casually think. There are different expressions of will. On one level, will is volition or the impulse to act. Will can be our sense of firm determination. Will is also the capacity to choose, our free will.

Mystics regularly use terms like “self-will” to express a further understanding of what the will is and how it works. We can say that self-will is selfish will, as opposed to the willingness to be of service. Or we might say that self-will is willfulness, when we are consumed by our own private purposes and no longer pay attention to feedback from other people or the environment. But there is more to self-will than that.

Self-will isn’t always cruel or destructive, at least not in obvious ways. It is quite possible to perform great philanthropic works and still have it be an expression of self-will, for example. Self-will is will that is under the control of the ego. Its actions serve and reinforce the ego. Self-will renews the trance of the ego-self.

Most of what we call will is involved somehow in self-will. But the opposite of self-will is not inaction. There is another form of will that does not originate with the ego and does not constantly return our attention to it. This selfless will is potent, yet it is not our own. To unleash this other will in our lives requires an elegant balance between yielding and stepping forward, between selflessness and presence. We engage in action, but we are not the actors. What we normally think of as the self is not directing the action.

This frees up a great amount of trapped psychic energy, and we become awestruck witnesses to the unexpected grace and power of life acting through us — a vision of immense beauty!

For there is nothing the soul now seeks,
save for this beauty!

Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality) All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time

Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti), Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti) poetry, Christian poetry Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Jul 01 2022

Innocence and naiveté

Innocence is not naiveté.
Naiveté must be carefully removed.
Innocence is our true nature.

No responses yet

Jun 30 2022

Poetry Chaikhana is Moving!

I have a big announcement: The Poetry Chaikhana is moving – and so am I. After many years of living in Colorado, my wife and I have decided to move back to our hometown of Eugene, Oregon.

I am a traveler, You are my road.
I go from You to You.

~ Zeynep Hatun

Deciding to Move

We had discussed the idea of returning to Oregon before, but it never felt like the right time. My part-time job as a computer programmer is here in Colorado. We have friends and spiritual circles in Colorado that are important to us. Though we had been vagabonds as young adults, we now felt like “grown ups” who had finally settled down.

Then some big shifts began to happen. Several friends moved out of the area. Covid hit. And just as the first Covid lockdowns started, both of my wife’s parents died (unrelated to Covid). The grief she felt was magnified by the isolation of Covid world. We felt increasingly disconnected in Colorado. Reconnecting with our extended families in Oregon began to feel essential.

(Downtown Eugene, Oregon. Image: Rick Obst, Flickr)
(Downtown Eugene, Oregon. Image: Rick Obst, Flickr)

Oregon, Poetry and Nature

In addition to people who are dear to us in Oregon, the land itself has always quietly called to us. Oregon’s deep green forests and its generous rain inspires a contemplative, quieter approach to life. A good place for poetry.

Now that all thoughts have subsided
off I go, deep into the woods,
and pick me
a handful of shepherd’s purse.
Just like the stream
meandering through mossy crevices
I, too, hushed
become utterly clear.

~ Ryokan

An Encounter and a Decision

In April, as we were driving through our neighborhood deep in conversation about the idea of a move, a huge eagle swooped down from around the corner and flew right at our car. As it passed above our car, with its bright white head and immense wingspan, we could clearly see that it held prey, what looked like a fish from the nearby lake, in its talons.

(Not our eagle, but it looked similar. Image: Jongsun Lee, Unsplash)
(Not our eagle, but it looked similar. Image: Jongsun Lee, Unsplash)

Encountering that eagle at that exact moment headed straight for us felt like a divine blessing, an affirmation.

When the universe speaks, we find it’s best to listen. We set aside our hesitations and agreed to move.

Just a few days later, we found a home to rent in Eugene that we loved. We committed to move at the beginning of August.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

~ John O’Donohue

Poetry Chaikhana Community Support

When we first started making plans for this move, my wife and I thought we could do it quickly and cheaply, the way we did in our 20s. It turns out that moving when you are over 50 is not the same experience as when you’re young! Who knew I had accumulated so many poetry books over the past couple of decades? Even selling and donating larger things, like furniture, there is a lot to move. We are struggling to find the funds to cover all of the expenses.

It felt like it was time to once again reach out to you, the Poetry Chaikhana community.

I was surprised to realize that it has been more than five years since I last sent out a direct appeal for donations.

My strong hope is that this move will usher in a new flowering of the Poetry Chaikhana. I would love to have community support and encouragement through this move as I begin to explore new poetic avenues in a new community.

Our Goal: Let’s raise $5,000 to help with the move.
That may sound like a big number, but with a community of several thousand people across the globe, I think we can raise that sum together.

Your donation will help in several important ways:

  • Logistically, it will help us cover necessary expenses, like a moving truck, gas (which, as you all know, has become expensive) and lodging during the move.
  • For the Poetry Chaikhana, it will help with a smooth transition, minimizing the amount of extra work I have to commit to my day job to cover expenses, allowing more time for poetry. This will lay the groundwork for establishing the Poetry Chaikhana in our new community and begin to imagine new projects, both local and global.
  • On a personal level, you will be helping us return home to our roots.

If you have thought about making a donation to the Poetry Chaikhana in the past, if you have been touched by a poem or commentary featured in one of the Poetry Chaikhana emails, if you would like to keep the poem emails coming regularly… now is an especially helpful time to make a donation.

Ways you can help:

– Make a secure online donation in any amount through PayPal by clicking the “Donate” button on the Poetry Chaikhana website at https://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/donate/

– Send a check or money order in US funds, addressed to:
Poetry Chaikhana
PO Box 2320
Boulder, CO 80306
(This address will obviously be changing soon, but all mail will be forwarded once the new PO box is set up.)

I am also grateful for your help through supportive thoughts and prayers. Every contribution, financial and energetic, is sincerely appreciated.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~ Rumi

(Bike path along the Willamette River, Eugene, Oregon. Image: Don Hankins, Flickr)
(Bike path along the Willamette River, Eugene, Oregon. Image: Don Hankins, Flickr)

Poetry and Personal Transformation

We forget how fundamental poetry is, not only to culture, but to consciousness. Poetry is meditation in the form of words. I posted this on the Poetry Chaikhana website years ago, and it’s just as true today:

“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.”

The Politics of Poetry

In addition to the spiritual importance of this sacred poetry, there is also a cultural, even a political motivation behind the Poetry Chaikhana. Here’s how I described it in a interview a few years ago:

“Sacred poetry has the unique benefit of being a deeply personal expression of spiritual truth while, at the same time, being largely free from dogma. In the United States, for example, there is an increasing prejudice and fear about the Muslim world. But who can read Jelaluddin Rumi without immediately recognizing the deep truth that Islam can express? The same is true for a non-Hindu reading Lal Ded or a non-Christian reading St. John of the Cross. Sacred poetry is the natural goodwill ambassador for the world’s religions. Poetry can reach across cultural divides, soften prejudices, and shed light on misunderstandings. I hope the Poetry Chaikhana can help to facilitate that process.”

Sacred poetry is transformative on both a personal and a global level.

The Poetry Chaikhana has become a community that reaches across the globe. We have visitors from every continent and more than 220 countries and territories!

The Poetry Chaikhana is an important resource for people all over the world seeking to more deeply understand their own wisdom traditions as well as the spirituality of other cultures in an atmosphere of mutual respect.


Thank you for being such a supportive and inspiring community all of these years! I mean that genuinely. I have always felt that we form an extended family for each other. This community has helped me though challenges and changes and shared in my joys. I hope you feel that too. Sending love and poetic nectar from my tea house to yours!


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Jun 17 2022

Mahmud Shabistari – The Beloved Guest

The Beloved Guest
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Florence Lederer

Cast away your existence entirely,
for it is nothing but weeds and refuse.
Go, clear out your heart’s chamber;
arrange it as the abiding-place of the Beloved.
When you go forth, He will come in,
and to you, with self discarded,
He will unveil His beauty.

— from The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari, Translated by Florence Lederer / Edited by David Fideler

/ Image by Aziz Acharki /

Again and again the great mystics and saints remind us to “cast away your existence entirely.” This is expressed in many ways in the various world traditions: to die in order to live, to lose yourself in order to be found.

Why all this morbid insistence in every tradition on self-negation? It is important to understand which “self” is being negated. The self that must be “cast away” is the false self, the little self, the ego — the nafs in Sufi terminology.

Until the ego is truly dropped, it rules our perception of reality like a miser. That ego has a secret it desperately must hide from our everyday awareness: it doesn’t really exist. At best we can say the ego is like a tension in the psyche, but it isn’t a real thing in and of itself.

So long as a person believes in the reality of that phantom ego, so long as we identify with that nagging cramp of the “me”-sense, then seeing its inherent unreality is inconceivable, terrifying. The absence of ego is mistakenly assumed to be one’s own death. Recoiling in fear, the psyche reflexively limits our perception of everything around us, crippling the consciousness, all in order to perpetuate the illusion of the ego and so protect us against “death.” The result, however, is that the simple truth remains hidden: The ego does not exist, and we are not the ego; we survive the loss of ego.

The way out of this trap is to — with deep love, infinite patience, elegant balance, and unshakable determination — loosen the ego’s bindings until it falls away naturally.

When we accomplish that, we stand in mute amazement. For, when the ego “you” has left, the Divine One “will come in,” and “unveil His beauty” to us. And, although that radiant beauty reveals itself to be everywhere, it is also recognized as contentedly abiding in the “heart’s chamber.”

Recommended Books: Mahmud Shabistari

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari Beyond Faith and Infidelity: The Sufi Poetry and Teachings of Mahmud Shabistari

Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Jun 17 2022

great pure ache

All that loss, hurt and hope —
gather them up
into a great pure ache
until the Beloved has no choice but to kiss
your naked heart.

No responses yet

Jun 03 2022

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – Though burning has become an old habit for this heart

Published by under Poetry

Though burning has become an old habit for this heart
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

Though burning has become an old habit for this heart,
I dare not think of Your company.
What would a moth mean
to the fire that burns worlds?

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian

/ Image by Omer Salom /

I know that I have not been consistent with sending out the poetry emails recently. There has been a lot going on and it has been challenging to set aside the time to sit with the poetry before sending it out to you. I would rather have a solid energetic connection with the Poetry Chaikhana community than send something out casually. But I figured we could enjoy a short poem together, so why not a selection from one of my favorite Sufi poets, Abu-Said Abil-Kheir…

This short poem suggests great intimacy with the Divine, but rather than using that as an excuse to feed the ego, he discovers profound humility instead.

Though burning has become an old habit for this heart…

This sounds like a wild poetic flourish of language, but Abu-Said Abil-Kheir is actually saying something fairly specific. The heart aflame is an image that appears in the sacred language and iconography of many traditions.

In the state of deep spiritual communion, when the agitations of the mind are at rest and the attention is not seeking outward distractions, awareness settles into the heart. This is not to say that one is not aware of the outside world; rather, all of the world is gathered into the heart. It is as if the heart has expanded to encompass everything.

Simultaneously, there is a sense of heat — filled with immense love — that permeates the body. This warmth is sometimes a blazing heat that spreads out across the chest and glows in the palms of your hands.

This is the heart in fiery communion.

…So, when Abu-Said Abil-Kheir states that burning has become an “old habit for this heart,” he is declaring that he regularly enters into this fiery union.

But, he immediately follows with:

I dare not think of Your company.

Traditionally, the burning heart is seen as one of the signs of intimacy with the Beloved, God’s closeness. And here’s the problem: The moment you find yourself thinking, ‘Wow! I feel the touch of the Eternal!” — at that moment it is gone.

In trying to grasp it, define it, and define yourself by it, it slips away.

This is what is oh so difficult about true sacred experience — it is not an experience at all. It is not something with boundaries that the memory can cling to and the will can reproduce for self-validation. It is not something that we turn on and off and on again. Rather, it is a perpetual state of being that we learn to participate in with awareness.

Try to define it, or praise yourself for it, begin to think of yourself as close to the Beloved, then the closeness eludes you. That’s the ego trying to slip in where it cannot go. The only way is utter humility and deep stillness. There can be no “you” claiming the experience.

After all, even in the most bliss-filled communion, you are not really doing anything at all. In the presence of flame, the ice cube simply melts, the moth can’t help but be consumed.

What would a moth mean
to the fire that burns worlds?

What is important is not one candled moth, but the fire it loves and gives itself to.

The sun is out today. I think I’ll step outside and feel its warmth upon my chest.

Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition
More Books >>

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jun 03 2022

smoldering eyes

Seek the smoldering eyes
beneath the mask.

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May 13 2022

A. R. Ammons – Still

Published by under Poetry

by A. R. Ammons

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:
each day I’ll wake up
and find the lowly nearby,
a handy focus and reminder,
a ready measure of my significance,
the voice by which I would be heard,
the wills, the kinds of selfishness
I could
freely adopt as my own:

but though I have looked everywhere,
I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence, is in
surfeit of glory:
nothing is diminished,
nothing has been diminished for me:

I said what is more lowly than the grass:
ah, underneath,
a ground-crust of dry-burnt moss:
I looked at it closely
and said this can be my habitat: but
nestling in I
below the brown exterior
green mechanisms beyond the intellect
awaiting resurrection in rain: so I got up

and ran saying there is nothing lowly in the universe:
I found a beggar:
he had stumps for legs: nobody was paying
him any attention: everybody went on by:
I nestled in and found his life:
there, love shook his body like a devastation:
I said
though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe:

I whirled though transfigurations up and down,
transfigurations of size and shape and place:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

— from Selected Poems, by A. R. Ammons

/ Image by Scott Webb /

What a stunning poem! It brings our awareness down, down into the root of being.

There are several wonderful lines, but I want to explore where A. R. Ammons has chosen to break his lines.

The poet starts off by declaring that he wants to identify with what is “lowly”–

I said I will find what is lowly
and put the roots of my identity
down there:

This may sound strange. Why try to find the lowest of simplest level of existence? What is his instinct to become that next to nothing?

I have always had a love of the natural world. On my walks, I often delight in the majestic turn of a trunk on a great tree. Or the unexpected encounter with wildlife. Or being brought to a halt by the brilliant color of a single wildflower at the edge of a pathway. But you know what I keep coming back to? The grass. Looking at a field of grass. Whether neatly trimmed in a yard or wild and uneven in a field. Grass, anonymous in its abundance. The grass we unthinkingly walk over every day. Grass, undistinguished and unnoticed. There is so much life there! Grass embodies a vibrant acceptance and selflessness. In the natural world, it is a reminder of humility — but filled with life and connection!

That instinct is important on the spiritual path. Humility. I know the word can trigger negative reactions. When laden with cold piety, it can sound bleak and lifeless. But, when we approach the world with genuine, simple humility, the world opens us up… we open up. We discover simplicity, and in that a new self and a new freedom. We discover expansive feelings of joy and interconnection that are not dependent on projecting a certain identity or set of experiences. As we remove ourselves from the center of all our perceptions, we begin to feel greater empathy at all levels. Our compassion awakens. We become new beings.

Ultimately, this quest for the simple self is a rebellion against the prison of the ego’s tyranny. We can be simply and naturally who we really are.

As the poet looks through the world for what is lowly, he comes to a realization:

I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence…

When we really notice, however, even the most humble and lowly reveals itself to be full of wonder, holding unknown worlds.

Read each of the above lines separately. “I can find nothing,” he says, and only parenthetically adds, “to give myself to.”

He doesn’t simply say, “everything is magnificent with existence.” He breaks the line emphatically. “Everything is!” he proclaims. Being, the pure existence of things, is itself what is “magnificent.” His strong line break drives home this truth by requiring us to read the line as two distinct statements which the mind only later pieces together to form a single sentence.

Another line break to contemplate:

nestling in I

He is saying two things at once with the line break here. The surface reading could be paraphrased as, “I found while I was nestling in…” But another reading is, “Nestling in myself, I (am) found.”

The final stanza might encourage the second, more mystical reading:

at one sudden point came still,
stood in wonder:
moss, beggar, weed, tick, pine, self, magnificent
with being!

I don’t want to pass by the line about the beggar — “there, love shook his body like a devastation.”

though I have looked everywhere
I can find nothing lowly
in the universe…

Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: A. R. Ammons

Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971 Brink Road: Poems Selected Poems The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy A Coast of Trees: Poems by A R Ammons
More Books >>

A. R. Ammons, A. R. Ammons poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry A. R. Ammons

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by A. R. Ammons

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May 13 2022


Joy is an art.

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Apr 22 2022

Walt Whitman – It is time to explain myself

Published by under Poetry

[44] It is time to explain myself — let us stand up (from Song of Myself)
by Walt Whitman

It is time to explain myself — let us stand up.
What is known I strip away,
I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown.
The clock indicates the moment — but what does eternity indicate?
We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers,
There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them.
Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.
I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Were mankind murderous or jealous upon you, my brother, my sister?
I am sorry for you, they are not murderous or jealous upon me,
All has been gentle with me, I keep no account with lamentation,
(What have I to do with lamentation?)

I am an acme of things accomplished, and I am encloser of things to be.
My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly traveled, and still I mount and mount.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon.

Long was I hugged close — long and long.
Immense have been the preparations for me,
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.
Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.

For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it with care.
All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.

— from Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman

/ Image by Nandhu Kumar /

I know this is a bit longer than most of the poems I send out, but don’t rush through it. Take a restful few moments to read this slowly. Enjoy the flavor of the words on your tongue, let them sweeten your thoughts.

Several of the lines from this selection ring through the decades. Find the lines that sing to you.

Like so much of Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself,’ this chapter has a wonderful sense of the sacred tumult of life. He is especially meditating upon how all of life and the ages of the past “trillions of winters and summers” has led up to this moment, to this scintillating instant.

And it is in the present moment that he discovers himself resting upon the crest of the wave of eternity:

Long was I hugged close — long and long.
Immense have been the preparations for me…

Whitman isn’t interested in some sort of religious idea of perfection. For him, what is important is to inhabit the present (“That which fills its period and place is equal to any.”) and to recognize in the present (and in yourself) the fulfillment of eons (“I am an acme of things accomplished…”).

Yet, in the messy and sometimes tragic or “murderous” fullness of the present, nothing is static. The present continuously flows into the future: “…I am the encloser of things to be,” “…and still I mount and mount.”

Whitman comes to a profound realization when he sees back to “the huge first Nothing,” and proclaims, “I know I was even there.” He is not talking about some ancient event that he was present for in the historical sense. He is recognizing a fundamental truth of reality, that all of life and form is given birth from a living Void or Womb… and his awareness was there, and is still there now. In other words, he has discovered and is shouting out the realization that awareness precedes the world of physicality and form and time, that everything is born from a spacious emptiness full of living potential. That line, “I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,” sounds startlingly like a Buddhist teaching that leads the practitioner to discover Nirvana or the Nothingness that is the true foundation of reality.

In this mighty vision of reality, Whitman continuously asserts that everything has led up to the immensity of the present moment, and to the vastness of the one who inhabits it — his very own Self. “All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me.”

Whitman invites us to call out with him:

Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.

Recommended Books: Walt Whitman

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Song of Myself Leaves of Grass Dead Poets Society (DVD)

Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Walt Whitman

US (1819 – 1892) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Transcendentalist

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Apr 22 2022


All the world
is an altar.

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Apr 08 2022

Hafiz – Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine

Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine
by Hafiz

English version by Bernard Lewis

Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine.
Make haste, the heavenly sphere knows no delay.
Before this transient world is ruined and destroyed,
ruin me with a beaker of rose-tinted wine.
The sun of the wine dawns in the east of the goblet.
Pursue life’s pleasure, abandon dreams,
and the day when the wheel makes pitchers of my clay,
take care to fill my skull with wine!
We are not men for piety, penance and preaching
but rather give us a sermon in praise of a cup of clear wine.
Wine-worship is a noble task, O Hafiz;
rise and advance firmly to your noble task.

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

/ Image by Jessica.Tam /

I have been witnessing an ecstatic sky ballet during the past few days. Here in Colorado, we have been getting high winds lately. Most sane land creatures, humans included, have kept hidden in their dens and holes and houses. But I, not always being so sane, have been going for walks with my fluffy dog, Apollo. While the pathways of our walk have been empty, I’ve watched as the birds delight in the strong currents of air. One day recently I looked up to watch as perhaps three dozen large hawks rode the wind, hardly ever needing to flap their wings, catching thermal columns and circling around as a group, Sufis of the sky, whirling round and round.

Another day I saw a curious group of white birds forming two, sometimes three groups, gliding together and apart, forming patterns of shared movement. At first I mistook them for seagulls, but seagulls are usually more independent in their movements, kiting and turning and challenging one another as individuals. This group of birds was engaged in a communal dance of shared movement. I then saw that they were thicker bodied, with their heads cocked back slightly and resting on their shoulders even in flight — and I realized that they were pelicans! We tend to think of pelicans as awkward when they walk, but in the sky and on water, they have an elegance and grace. In the air this day they danced as a group in balletic arcing movements.

Even on the most blustery of days, we might just look up and witness a heavenly dance…


It has been far too long since we last featured a poem by the great Hafiz. So today’s poem, the ecstatic words of Hafiz glow like wine in sunlight

Wine, as I have often pointed out, is a metaphor for the bliss experienced in the presence of the Beloved, in the presence of God. So, when Hafiz opens this verse with the line, “Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine,” he is proclaiming that enlightenment, the dawn, is upon him — quick, bring the divine bliss also and make me worthy to meet the Beloved!

And that stunning line, “Before this transient world is ruined and destroyed, / ruin me with a beaker of rose-tinted wine…” Hafiz is inviting total self-annihilation in the bliss of divine communion, saying he must experience it while alive. He wants to be so completely “drunk” on the presence of God within, that all of his personal sense of self dissolves.

When he tells us to “pursue life’s pleasure, abandon dreams,” Hafiz is using the common Sufi device of equating self-abandonment and sacred practices with earthly indulgence. He is not advocating hedonism. But this one parallel exists between the hedonist and the saint that the Sufis capitalize on — you must step outside of society’s norms. You must be willing to abandon everything, every aspiration and thought, every fixed perception of reality, every “dream,” for the “pleasure” of the divine embrace.

The next section, “and the day when the wheel makes pitchers of my clay, / take care to fill my skull with wine!” has a very precise mystical meaning. The “clay” he speaks of is the earthen nature of the physical body. To make “pitchers” of that clay is to purify it and form it — in order to receive the heavenly wine. Hafiz specifically wants his skull to be filled with wine. The skull is often described as the true cup that holds the divine nectar. On an energetic level, this is where the sacred drink — the wine, or amrita (or the “tea” that gave the Poetry Chaikhana it’s name) — is first received. When it is imbibed, it can then be felt in the throat, before it descends and warms the heart and belly, finally spreading throughout the entire body and awareness.

Hafiz then declares he would rather listen to a “sermon in praise of a cup of clear wine” than follow “piety, penance and preaching” for “Wine-worship is a noble task…” Here, he is poking fun at blind religious formalism. He is reminding us that true holiness comes from the direct experience of ecstatic communion — the drinking of wine — not from merely following prescribed actions that make us seem to others to be devout.

Understanding this, Hafiz exhorts himself — and us — to “rise and advance firmly” in that “noble task” of “wine-worship.” The rising he speaks of also has a specific meaning, for there is often a sensation of an energy that rises or bubbles up which accompanies the blissful drinking of the mystic’s wine. It begins in the seat and rises up through the crown. Sometimes this rising is compared with a fountain or a spring. At other times it is called a fire since the body may feel as if it is delightfully burning up. In the terminology of Yoga, this is the Kundalini Shakti, but it is a universal experience, and Hafiz knows it must fully rise and advance for the Cupbearer to fill the cup with wine.

(And I say all this as someone who has never drunk alcohol in his life. Go figure.)

Recommended Books: Hafiz

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Hand of Poetry: Five Mystic Poets of Persia, with Lectures by Inayat Khan
More Books >>


Iran/Persia (1320 – 1389) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

If you are looking for versions of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky, click here.

More poetry by Hafiz

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Apr 08 2022

supremely complete

Remember, you are
supremely complete
in every circumstance.

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Mar 18 2022

Thich Nhat Hanh – Full Moon Festival

Published by under Poetry

Full Moon Festival
by Thich Nhat Hanh

What will happen when form collides with emptiness,
and what will happen when perception enters non-perception?
Come here with me, friend.
Let’s watch together.
Do you see the two clowns, life and death
setting up a play on a stage?
Here comes Autumn.
The leaves are ripe.
Let the leaves fly.
A festival of colors, yellow, red.
The branches have held on to the leaves
during Spring and Summer.
This morning they let them go.
Flags and lanterns are displayed.
Everyone is here at the Full Moon Festival.

Friend, what are you waiting for?
The bright moon shines above us.
There are no clouds tonight.
Why bother to ask about lamps and fire?
Why talk about cooking dinner?
Who is searching and who is finding?
Let us just enjoy the moon, all night.

— from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh

/ Image by Erik McIean /

For those in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the beginning of autumn — and it is a full moon…

What really drew me to this poem was its contemplation of a serene Buddhist idea of emptiness. I have always loved that quality of autumn, after the boisterous life of spring and summer, we get that glorious last shock of colors and cool temperatures as things quiet down and we begin to turn inward. It is a celebration of emptiness, but not bleakness or hopelessness. It is precisely in that emptiness that we experience a renewed but sublimated sort of life, a hidden expansiveness. In that sleepy season we become more awake and aware.

A few days ago I was on a walk. The day’s breeze had worked itself up to a full bluster. Wrapped up, I set out. On my walk I encountered a family with two children flying kites. That’s an unusual sight these days, so it caught my attention. I watched as the father helped the children get their kites aloft, holding up each kite in turn to catch the wind and pull taut against the string, then slowly playing its way up higher as they let out the string.

Watching this, while thoughts of war ran through the recesses of my thoughts, I saw the flight of these kites as a metaphor for how to navigate the uncertain world during these dangerous days. The kite, like the Zen master, works with what is, yielding, opening itself, gossamer thin, to the chaos swirling all around it. When all else is battered about, it soars.

Not through force of will, but through its inherent emptiness, it rides those powerful, unpredictable currents. It rises, it dances amidst the turmoil.

Friend, what are you waiting for?
The bright moon shines above us.

Recommended Books: Thich Nhat Hanh

Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy & Liberation

Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist poetry Thich Nhat Hanh

Vietnam/France/US (1926 – 2022) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Mar 18 2022

surf the apocalypse

When things feel chaotic or in collapse,
find the underlying currents
and flow with them.
We must learn to surf the apocalypse.

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Mar 11 2022

William Stafford – At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border

Published by under Poetry

At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border
by William Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

— from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by William Stafford

/ Image by Jeff King /

In the midst of the world’s travails, a moment of calm, a monument to the non-event, the non-war…

Read this poem aloud so you don’t miss its delightful rhyme:

where the unknown soldier did not die…
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,

Birds fly here without any sound…
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground

I especially love the closing couplet:

hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Be well. Remember that, despite the news, despite the many uncertainties, that the living world still awaits outside your door. Step out into it. Say hello to the people you meet… and the happily neglected fields with their heroic skies. Have a beautiful day.

Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Even in Quiet Places The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems
More Books >>

William Stafford, William Stafford poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Stafford

US (1914 – 1993) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by William Stafford

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