Oct 18 2019

Buson – This cold winter night

Published by under Poetry

This cold winter night
by Buson

English version by Sam Hamill

This cold winter night,
that old wooden-head Buddha
would make a nice fire

— from The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library), Edited by Sam Hamill / Edited by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by thanapat /

Chilly weather this morning. Makes a person cast about for a source of warmth… Hmm…

Every time I come across this haiku it makes me laugh. It works beautifully on several levels and can suggest almost opposite meanings. Superficially, we are contemplating an act of sacrilegious vandalism — hungrily looking at a large wooden Buddha head, perhaps it is neglected or fallen, and fantasizing about setting it on fire for a little comfort. On the other hand, the head engulfed in flames is a common image in Asian iconography to represent enlightenment, a variation on the nimbus or halo — so the haiku can just as easily be saying something about warming oneself through spiritual illumination.

The haiku shocks, it even offends, at the same time that it inspires awakening — a masterful joke!


Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Oct 18 2019

slow realization

The slow realization
of a lifetime lived with attention:
the satisfaction of simple moments.

One response so far

Oct 16 2019

Farid ud-Din Attar – The moths and the flame

Published by under Poetry

The moths and the flame
by Farid ud-Din Attar

English version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light,
And they decided one of them should go
To gather news of the elusive glow.
One flew till in the distance he discerned
A palace window where a candle burned —
And went no nearer: back again he flew
To tell the others what he thought he knew.
The mentor of the moths dismissed his claim,
Remarking: “He knows nothing of the flame.”
A moth more eager than the one before
Set out and passed beyond the palace door.
He hovered in the aura of the fire,
A trembling blur of timorous desire,
Then headed back to say how far he’d been,
And how much he had undergone and seen.
The mentor said: “You do not bear the signs
Of one who’s fathomed how the candle shines.”
Another moth flew out — his dizzy flight
Turned to an ardent wooing of the light;
He dipped and soared, and in his frenzied trance
Both self and fire were mingled by his dance —
The flame engulfed his wing-tips, body, head,
His being glowed a fierce translucent red;
And when the mentor saw that sudden blaze,
The moth’s form lost within the glowing rays,
He said: “He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”
To go beyond all knowledge is to find
That comprehension which eludes the mind,
And you can never gain the longed-for goal
Until you first outsoar both flesh and soul;
But should one part remain, a single hair
Will drag you back and plunge you in despair —
No creature’s self can be admitted here,
Where all identity must disappear.

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


/ Image by ruslik /

I don’t feature selections from it often enough, but Attar’s Mantic at-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds) is a long-time favorite of mine. The English language version by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis is good, but I still hope to read a truly great English translation someday.

This version maintains the two-line rhyme scheme. So read it out loud and feel the play of the rhyming couplets. Some are, admittedly, forced in English translation, but they bring a playfulness to the piece.

Moths gathered in a fluttering throng one night
To learn the truth about the candle light…

This is really a story in poetic form, an expansion on the ancient spiritual metaphor of the moth and the flame. We have a small community of moths gathered together at night. One moth flies off, sees a palace with a candle burning in the window. The moth returns and tells the other moths of the wondrous sight he has just witnessed. The “mentor of the moths” (the sheikh, their spiritual leader) states flatly, “He knows nothing of the flame.”

Another moth flies out to see the candle, flies close enough to feel the heat and the strange fluttering desire it awakens in him, and returns. Again, the mentor moth says that he clearly hasn’t understood the nature of the flame.

Finally, a moth truly overcome with love for the flame flies right into it, merges with it, and is utterly consumed. The leader of the moths approvingly says that one knows the truth.

So many things we can understand from this image. The flame, of course, is God, the Eternal One. And the moths are individual souls, spiritual seekers, lovers of God. We are the moths.

Attar is reminding us of one of the core truths only mystics seem to remember: It is not enough to think about God, or theorize about God, or pray to God, or read about God, or subscribe to the right faith in God, or even catch glimpses of God. Regardless of one’s religion or rectitude, the Divine is only ever known through direct encounter. Even the word “encounter” implies two who meet. No, the moth knows the real truth, light is known only through merging with it, and in merging, letting go of any sense of self that is separate. In this encounter there are not two, just one.

The only way to know is to be so enamored with that fiery, entrancing Beauty that we recklessly abandon the nafs, the little self, in order to merge with that dancing light.

That fluttering, moth-like self we all think we are — it has no substance anyway. The flame teaches us this.

Words fail, concepts fail, but we come to know in a greater, deeper way when we allow ourselves to be consumed.

“He knows, he knows the truth we seek,
That hidden truth of which we cannot speak.”


Recommended Books: Farid ud-Din Attar

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom The Conference of the Birds
More Books >>


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

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

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Oct 16 2019

a smoldering nugget

Even in our stumblings,
in our rebellions and unconsciousness,
there is a smoldering nugget of awareness
that calls out for remembrance.

No responses yet

Oct 07 2019

Theodore Roethke – In a Dark Time

Published by under Poetry

In a Dark Time
by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood —
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks — is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is —
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.


Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

— from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, by Theodore Roethke


/ Image by iNeedChemicalX /

Over the weekend I came across the following article:

“Emergency Poet” Opens Literary Pharmacy to Support Mental Health

Keele University in the UK has decided to open up what they are calling a “poetry pharmacy” to issue poetic therapy and first aid. They’ve set it up so you can move through rooms based on your particular need, everything from affairs of the heart to when the world is just too much.

I love this idea! We need a poetic first aid center in every community. I suppose, in my way, I try to do that with the Poetry Chaikhana.

If this idea intrigues you, an excellent book to read on the healing power of poetry is Poetic Medicine, by John Fox.

Thinking about poetry as medicine brought to mind this poem by Theodore Roethke…

This poem by Roethke is one of those poems to keep close in difficult times.

In a dark time, the eye begins to see

The struggle against despair, disorientation, darkness. The solitary individual lost in a lost world. We have all been there at some point in our lives. Deep seekers have a particular tendency to travel through those shadowed spaces.

I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.

That despair is often a deep-seated sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the human world presented to us. It can feel uncaring, limited, violent, broken, and incomplete. In other words, it is a place that does not accept the individual as he or she is. To operate in the human world, we are forced into games of pretense and self-disguise. It is a feeling of homelessness and isolation.

What does one do when the soul is at odds with circumstance? It creates a terrible crisis. As social creatures, we align with the group mind, often without awareness or consent. The more naturally we do this, the better we fit into society and exist in the human world. But what about the eccentrics and visionaries, those who resist that psychic pull in order to answer the soul’s need to be itself and see beyond social artifice?

The edge is what I have.

They tend to dwell at the edges. That is where both danger and possibility are found. There we gain the possibility of seeing clearly for the first time, witnessing reality as a complete and self-fulfilled individual.

But the danger is very real, as well. No longer relying on socially constructed reality as our boundary we also lose our safe landmarks. The psyche becomes disoriented and fragile.

To navigate this dark and uncertain territory, the seeker and the artist must cultivate a highly refined inner sense of balance and discipline. This is an important reason for developing a vigorous spiritual practice. Without the necessary inner solidity, the tendency is to rely on dangerous crutches, like excessive drinking and drug use — a terrible problem for so many creative non-conformists.

Think of it this way: The normal consensus reality is like the rigid shell of an egg. It does an excellent job of safely containing the still-forming individual, giving protection from exposure to the unknown outside reality. But, if the individual remains within that shell forever, the soul never experiences the fullness of life. Through spiritual practice, one awakens the fire of life and takes on inner solidity not dependent on outer containment. At that point, the shell has become too confining and we break free into the open air, cracking the shell but without fragmenting the self. Spiritual practice and deepening self-awareness gives us the inner solidity needed to encounter the new world.

…Those dark periods we experience, they do actually serve a purpose, awakening clarity of vision and a compassionate heart. When we feel most vulnerable and lost, we are often going through our greatest growth and transformation, readying for the blaze of light.

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

We must learn to work deeply amidst the darkness. We discover who we really are, slowly emerging from the shadows, for that is our stable landmark when all else shifts about.

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

=

Which poem do you keep close in your poetic medicine cabinet? What gives you comfort, clarity, or courage? Let me know.

Sending love.


Recommended Books: Theodore Roethke

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems On Poetry and Craft The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke
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Theodore Roethke, Theodore Roethke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Theodore Roethke

US (1908 – 1963) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Oct 07 2019

absolutism & faith

Absolutism is not an expression of faith,
it is a symptom of a lack of faith.

No responses yet

Oct 04 2019

William Butler Yeats – The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Published by under Poetry

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
by William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

— from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, by William Butler Yeats


/ Image by hideraldo dwight leitao /

Something for us today by that seeker/sage/bard/mage Yeats — a portrait of peace.

I love the rhythms of this poem. To really appreciate it, you need to say it aloud and slowly. Let it roll off the tongue.

Yeats paints with his words, running them together like brushstrokes in watercolor.

…the bee-loud glade.


…And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, .

In the beauty of this rustic scene, we discover stillness, something of the eternal in the sound of the water lapping at the shore and the mesmerizing hum of bees.

Listening well, we discover the one who listens. We discover “the deep heart’s core.”


Recommended Books: William Butler Yeats

The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Holy Fire: Nine Visionary Poets and the Quest for Enlightenment The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats Byzantium The Secret Rose
More Books >>


William Butler Yeats, William Butler Yeats poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Butler Yeats

Ireland (1865 – 1939) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : Celtic

More poetry by William Butler Yeats

8 responses so far

Oct 04 2019

Find the joy

Find the joy
that quietly glows in your chest,
the joy that glows with brazen disregard
for your lurching tears and laughter.

No responses yet

Sep 30 2019

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Published by under Poetry

The Thirsty
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Not only do the thirsty seek water,
The water too thirsts for the thirsty.

— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by sergis blog /

I thought I’d follow up on Friday’s poem with this short piece by Rumi continuing the theme of thirst…

Not only do the thirsty seek water

As I grow older, the idea of spiritual thirst becomes ever more real to me. As a young seeker, in my adolescence and early adulthood, I was consumed by such painful blind thirst that I couldn’t have named it “thirst” back then. It was simply the searing ache of my days. It was my whole world.

I went a little mad with my thirst. I kept seeking to withdraw, from society, from the world, retreating into the forests of Oregon, the mountains of Colorado, the jungles of Hawaii where perhaps I might glimpse what was truly essential. I fasted my body into emaciation. I meditated in caves. I walked barefoot and shirtless in the wilds. I spoke with drifters and the homeless, trying to know their hearts and see through their eyes.

Some part of me broke, I think. And then it broke open. That’s when I knew what it meant to drink and no longer thirst.

And a strange thing– what had felt like shattering effort driven by wild thirst suddenly seemed like nothing at all.

The water too thirsts for the thirsty.

Perhaps it wasn’t my terrible thirst that had driven me at all. Perhaps I was drawn by the water’s thirst for me. And all that strain and adventure, well, that was just the story I told myself along the way.

What has been most odd to me is my return to society since then. I made a conscious choice to come in from the wilderness, to rejoin the world, to hold a regular job, have a stable home, and reconnect with people (and try to share a taste of that sweet water with others). More than a decade later, it still feels strange to me. At times I find myself going through the motions, simply passing as a “normal” person. The challenges of daily life, of paying bills, of caring about my body’s health, of establishing regular patterns others can rely on, these practices still seem foreign to me at times, but I consider them a major part of my spiritual practice now. It used to be that the only things that made sense to me were transcendence and escape. These days I find the most humbling truth in being present, and watching with wonder, allowing life to be simply as it is.

I’m less consumed by my own thirst these days. I feel the water’s thirst for the thirsty world instead.


Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom
More Books >>


Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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5 responses so far

Sep 30 2019

pacifist & passivist

Being a pacifist
does not mean being a passivist.

No responses yet

Sep 27 2019

Mary Oliver – Thirst

Published by under Poetry

Thirst
by Mary Oliver

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

— from Thirst: Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by aeravi /

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have.

I suppose that’s the state of human existence. We wake and the thirst kicks in. There is always something we want, we crave, that somehow is missing but necessary for us to feel whole. Most of the time we don’t really know what that something is. We think it is this or that, this person, that thing, this feeling, that experience. But then, when we attain them, we may go to sleep satisfied but wake up the next morning and thirst again. The thirst remains. And so we refocus it on something else, a new thing, a new experience. And we begin again.

I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons.

We start to pay attention (hopefully) and examine the thirst more deeply. This thirst, this ache, resides in a deeper part of ourselves, and it cries out for a deeper connection with reality.

Like the poet, I tend to find intimations of that deeper reality when I am quiet and surrounded by the rhythms and life of the natural world. I notice that my heart relaxes and opens, and my focus expands. My thoughts become less grasping and more fluid.

But is that too one more experience held onto, one more fixation that ultimately limits my ability to satisfy the thirst I feel?

Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart.

These lines are so interesting. This conversation in the heart between the earth and God might suggest a personal crossroads between life and death. Perhaps it is a health crisis and she does not know if she will live or die and she is trying to make peace with all possibilities.

We can also read these lines as being about how one balances the love for outer forms and the inner spirit…

Any experience of beauty and fulfillment requires a delicate touch. If we become attached to its outer form, then the inner, soul-nourishing liquid begins to trickle away. When we say to ourselves, that meditation, that walk, that person, made me feel so wonderful yesterday, so I will repeat it today and tomorrow, then we have lost the essence that fed our spirit. The trick is to recognize the real thing beneath the thing. The real thing is intangible, subtle, fluid, and not contained or limited by the outer form. If it can be grasped or controlled, that’s the husk and not the sweet sap.

At first this recognition is frustrating. It is like a tug-of-war within the heart, the comfort and familiarity of outer forms everywhere on display upon the face of the earth, with the slow recognition that every form is really just a symbol, an incomplete representation of what lies within. And it’s that inner substance that alone satisfies. The path to mastery, I suspect, is to be able to dowse those secret waterways, remaining undistracted by outer forms and formulations of what has worked in the past. Even patterns of prayer and communion that fed us at one stage can fall barren. We are then challenged to let go of our fixation on the familiar in order to rediscover the sacred directly. For it is that living, nourishing fullness of spirit that is the real and only goal.

Yet the one is not entirely separate from the other. Landmarks and forms are useful pointers. So we have this dynamic relationship of inner and outer, complimentary and sometimes in conflict.

Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing…

Why then do we so mightily cling to outer things? When that underground flow of life nourishment has moved on, then our focus must move with it. The material things that were once a conduit for us but no longer, let us pass them on for they may feed another. And when we leave the earth, we will still follow that secret flow. The wellspring, not the things that briefly pointed the way to it.

…except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

Here I am sipping from a tall glass of water watching the sun dance on the leaves of the aspen outside my window. 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

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Sep 27 2019

what you are

Meditation is not what you do,
it is what you are.

No responses yet

Sep 20 2019

John O’Donohue – In Praise of the Earth

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

In Praise of the Earth
by John O’Donohue

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth,
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

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


/ Image by mark O’Rourke /

Today is an important day of environmental activism and reconnection with the natural world. A good day to praise the Earth–

There was a time when I lived on Maui, without much money but surrounded by stunning natural beauty. I stayed in a place half-way up Haleakala Volcano, at the edge of a eucalyptus forest. I fasted a lot in those days, and several times a week I would walk barefoot into the woods. Hidden among the trees was a small rock cave, just large enough for me to sit upright in meditation. To sit quietly in the cool, silent embrace of the Earth — a true blessing!

Though I now live in a small city, in a computer-powered world, I still carry that time with me in my heart. That memory continuously reminds me that, in spite of skyscrapers and the Internet, the world is not man-made. All the works of humanity are small accomplishments compared with the panoramic living miracle of the Earth.

The ground below us, sky above us, breath within us — all is the living Earth.

The Earth is the stage for our dramas.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And hold our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Not only could we not act without the Earth, we could not dream. The images, the objects, the colors that populate the human psyche, they are all of the Earth too. The Earth gives the mind a vocabulary. The Earth is our language. Not only is the natural world the stage upon which we act and experience and occupy physical space, it also populates the inner landscape of mind and dream.

The Earth is the place of birth, the stuff of life, and rest in death.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

While we as individuals live out the span of years alotted to us, the Earth is the full embodiment, the whole multiplicity of Life.

The tangible hints at the intangible. Matter expresses spirit. Earth gives form to heaven. How can we not honor that form? It is sacred. And it is us. You and I emerge to incarnate that form. Our challenge is to awaken and incarnate the secret light it suggests.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

Take some time today to sit on the Earth. Run your fingers through the grass. Feel the quiet strength filling your bones. Know you are home.

And… have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: John O’Donohue

To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings Echoes of Memory Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on Our Yearning to Belong Beauty: The Invisible Embrace Wisdom of the Celtic World (Audio CD)
More Books >>


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

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

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Sep 20 2019

Unleash the imagination

We are always doing the best we can imagine.
The problem is that we aren’t always doing
the best we can.

Unleash the imagination!

No responses yet

Sep 18 2019

Devara Dasimayya – Suppose you cut a tall bamboo

Published by under Poetry

Suppose you cut a tall bamboo
by Devara Dasimayya

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

Suppose you cut a tall bamboo
in two;
make the bottom piece a woman,
the headpiece a man;
rub them together
till they kindle:
                  tell me now,
the fire that’s born,
is it male or female,


                  O Ramanatha?

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Image by Christopher Michel /

Following up on the Kundalini theme of last week’s poem by Dorothy Walters…

I really love the poetry of the great Virasaiva saints of India but, on the surface, this particular poem by Devara Dasimayya doesn’t seem to have much to do with spirituality. Why is he talking about bamboo? And what does he mean when he speaks about making a piece of the bamboo “a woman” and a piece of it “a man”? Let’s unfold the poem a bit and see if the meaning becomes more clear…

Certain yogic practitioners carry with them a stick or a pole, often made of bamboo, called a danda. This “tall bamboo” is more than a walking stick, it is a ritual object that symbolizes the shushumna or the subtle spinal column that is the primary energetic pathway of awakened spiritual energies. The practitioner of Yoga strives to awaken the Kundalini energy which commonly sits dormant at the base of the spine. When aroused, the Kundalini moves up the spine along the shushumna, which is often compared to a hollow reed or stalk of bamboo. When the fiery Kundalini reaches the crown, the individual awareness merges with cosmic consciousness — the sacred marriage — and the new life of enlightenment is experienced.

Returning to Dasimayya’s poem, if you divide the “bamboo” of the spiritual spine “in two,” the “bottom piece” is the seat of the feminine Kundalini energy — thus you make it “a woman.” The “headpiece” is associated with the masculine transcendent form of the divine, in yogic tradition often identified with the God Shiva — making it “a man.” So we have the female and the male, magnetized poles of a spiritual circuit within the individual

We then “rub them together / till they kindle.” That is, if we continuously work to bring the energies of the feminine and masculine poles into contact, an electrical charge is built up, and eventually that spark gives birth to a “fire” — the awakened Kundalini that runs up the spine with a rush of heat. When the female and the male poles merge, the bliss of union is rapturous, releasing a new radiant life within us.

The question Dasimayya asks: Is this divine child of enlightenment, this living fire born of the union of polarities, is it male or female? Can one truly say that enlightenment somehow more masculine or feminine, that belongs to only one end of the pole? No, the fire consumes everything, including the feminine and masculine ends of the pole. There is no male and female left, no duality, no separation. All that remains is the formless living fire of awakened awareness.

The question itself seems to be a refutation of the idea that one gender is somehow inherently closer to godliness or more capable of attaining enlightenment. Energies that we might identify as “male” and “female” are important to the awakening process, but each individual has both and must harness both in harmony. And enlightenment itself? It is beyond the dualities epitomized by gender. Enlightenment encompasses everything and is not limited by categories, like gender.

The Virasaivas were a highly egalitarian group, recognizing social — and spiritual — equality in all people, regardless of caste or gender.

Try rereading the poem now and watch the sparks fly!


Recommended Books: Devara Dasimayya

Speaking of Siva


Devara Dasimayya

India (10th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Sep 18 2019

information and knowledge

Don’t mistake information for knowledge.

Information is important,
but knowledge is the stuff of life.

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Sep 13 2019

Dorothy Walters – Still Life

Published by under Poetry

Still Life
by Dorothy Walters

      The rose that no longer blooms in the garden,
      blooms inside her whole body, among the veins
      and organs and the skeleton.
                  — Linda Gregg

A hidden blossoming.
Petals flaming beneath the skin.
And a softness pressing,
as delicate as the mouth
of a blind lover.


Each movement,
each quiet gesture
awakens
a rosary in the blood.
Was it desire
which brought her to this moment,
this arrival at source,
or was it merely a need
to be still, to be richly fed
from this fountain
of dark silence.

— from Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey, by Dorothy Walters


/ Image by Arielle Kincaid /

I consider Dorothy Walters to be a friend, as well as a source of inspiration. She is in her 90s and still very active with various spiritual groups, sometimes giving talks, and regularly offering advice to people who contact her online. She and I have a running joke — One of us suggests getting together for brunch and conversation… until we try to pin down a date. Her schedule is always so busy that she ends up saying something like, “How about in two months?”

Since I’m in fairly regular contact with her, I was surprised to randomly find a new interview she recently did for the YouTube channel Buddha at the Gas Pump. I was surprised because she didn’t tell me about it or send me a link, it just popped up unexpectedly in my YouTube queue.

You can watch the YouTube interview here: Dorothy Walters Interview – Buddha at the Gas Pump

A couple weeks ago I noticed that her book of poetry, Marrow of Flame, which the Poetry Chaikhana publishes, had experienced a bump in sales recently and I was curious why. Then I noticed the new interview on YouTube. That’s why. More people are discovering this fascinating, unconventional spiritual elder and are wanting to read her writings.

With Dorothy in my thoughts, it only seems natural to share one of her poems from Marrow of Flame today.

Let’s start with the poem’s title itself, “Still Life.” Normally, that suggests a static painting, something beautiful with life in it, but without movement. Reading this poem, there is so much vitality that it is easy to forget that it is all happening within. The person of the poem — Dorothy Walters herself, you or me as the reader — is actually not doing anything outwardly. All of that life, the blossoming and searing, that is all happening within, and outwardly there is stillness, or perhaps just a slight gesture here and there. Still life, life within, stillness without.

Dorothy Walters speaks very directly about the spiritual and energetic opening often referred to as Kundalini awakening. She regularly talks about the highs and lows of Kundalini, that it can be blissful, rapturous, transformative, but it can also be deeply challenging and disorienting. Not only is it spiritual, with profound affects on the consciousness and one’s sense of self and interconnectedness with all things, it can also be quite physical, bestowing the most delightful sensations down to the cellular level, but also sometimes producing physical difficulties and discomfort. Dorothy’s poetry gives voice to the entire range of the Kundalini experience.

When she takes Linda Gregg’s quote, the inner blossoming becomes a representation of the spiritual energies of the Kundalini, flaming like the fire so associated with the experience, and also delicate and soft, like a lover, since this opening is often likened to ecstatic union with the Divine Beloved.

A hidden blossoming.
Petals flaming beneath the skin.
And a softness pressing,
as delicate as the mouth
of a blind lover.

With her first lines we immediately feel the searing, possibly painful passion, somehow balanced with a sense of profound peace.

And let’s not forget the sense of life, an entire garden within, and that garden is waking up, blossoming.

Each movement,
each quiet gesture
awakens
a rosary in the blood.

I love that phrase, “a rosary in the blood.” When fully swept up in the experience of the awakened Kundalini, when the energy flows without hindrances, there is a profound sense of stillness and interconnection. It is as if there is no sense of a little self to cause disruption within the wide open expanse of being. And in that open stillness, if you then move the body slightly, or if it moves on its own, as sometimes happens in such moments, even if you shift your energies a bit, that profound inner stillness can become a gently flowing bliss that bubbles and anoints every cell of the body. There is a wondrous interplay between stillness and movement, movement emerging from stillness and returning back to stillness, highlighted with ripples of delight.

Was it desire
which brought her to this moment,
this arrival at source

What brings us here? Whether we call it Kundalini or by some other name, what brings us to moments of awakening and communion? Is it because of some inner drive, some effort or practice? Is it because we have found the right pathway or teacher?

Or is it because something in us hungers and can be fed by nothing else? Is the hunger itself the beginning of one’s awakening?

or was it merely a need
to be still, to be richly fed
from this fountain
of dark silence.

Whether we have some big experience that we label Kundalini awakening or simply live our lives day-to-day learning to better embody our true selves with kindness and compassion, that secret fountain feeds us.

In our quiet moments we can feel it, that secret life unfolding, a hidden blossoming.


Recommended Books: Dorothy Walters

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension
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Dorothy Walters, Dorothy Walters poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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