Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

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 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

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

Oct 16 2020

Shankara – You are my true self, O Lord

Published by under Poetry

You are my true self, O Lord
by Shankara

English version by Ivan M. Granger

You are my true self, O Lord.
      My pure awareness is your consort.
      My breath, my body are your handmaids.
I am your holy ground.

My every action is an offering to you.
      My rest is my melting into you.
Every step I take circles you.
      Every word I speak is a song for you.

Whatever work I do, that work is worship of you,
      O Fountain of Bliss!

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


/ Image by DieselDemon /

I feel like I should say something about this poem by the great Adi Shankara, but I’m not feeling especially verbal this morning. Sometimes it’s best for me to just step aside and let the poem speak for itself. Enjoy!

And be well.


Recommended Books: Shankara

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) A Treasury of Sanskrit Poetry Shankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination Upadesa Sahasri: A Thousand Teachings Shankara and Indian Philosophy
More Books >>


Shankara, Shankara poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Shankara

India (788 – 820) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Oct 09 2020

Thich Nhat Hanh – Please Call Me by My True Names

Published by under Poetry

Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

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


/ Image by AlicePopkorn /

A number of days ago, word began to circulate that the great Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who is nearly 94, had stopped eating and his followers felt he may be ready to pass any day. Just a couple of days ago, however, a new message was posted by his community that he is now stable and that there is no immediate cause for concern. Thich Nhat Hanh has been such an important international figure of spirituality, integrity, and compassion, all combined with peace activism, that his passing, when it comes, will be felt by so many across the globe.

Because he has been in my thoughts this week, I thought I’d share one of his most loved poems today…

=

This is a lovely, unflinching meditation on how all of being and all of human experience weaves together into a single tapestry of the whole. It can even draw comparisons with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” where everything, terrible and beautiful, is one, is witnessed, and is found within oneself.

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Most of us have learned to anticipate what will happen next, and we end up mentally dwelling in our fantasies and fears about the future. But the future is merely an idea; it never has reality. The present moment is all that is ever real. And that is where we must dwell if we want to truly be alive and know what is real.

The present is a state of “still arriving.” Because the present moment is not a fixed space in time, we can’t say that anything encountered in the present is fixed and settled either. The present is a gossamer thin, moving thread of light where all things are just barely stepping into the visibility of being… as the moment keeps moving. Everything, everyone, in every second is always just arriving. The present is a continuous becoming.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest…

Another fascinating thing is discovered when we truly, deeply perceive the present moment: Not only are we and all things “still arriving,” but the illusion of boundaries and separate being falls away. The notion of identity expands and recognizes itself just as naturally in all things witnessed. We find we are not just the person watching the bud on the Spring branch, but in our arriving we are equally the Spring bud, the young bird, the caterpillar in the flower, the jewel waiting in the stone. This is not some poetic game of words; it is what we actually perceive ourselves to be.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

When we finally see this truth, for the first time we can truly witness the world as it is. And that is what this poem is most about: witnessing. Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to courageously witness the panorama of life, wonders and horrors alike. Through this honest witnessing, we are not spectators watching others from a distance; no, it all unfolds upon us and in us. We are witnessing ourselves in many forms. We recognize that anything that happens anywhere in the world, is actually happening to us. Everything done, is done by ourselves… to ourselves. There is no unfolding experience in the world that we are not participants in.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

This is why compassion is not altruistic. This is why service is no effort. When we finally see things as they are, it is all part of our own selves. When we offer our heart, when we offer our hand, we are simply helping ourselves. Who among us, when he touches a hot iron, doesn’t immediately pull back and then soothe the burn under cool water? That’s not altruism, it is the natural response to pain in one’s body. When we see clearly, we see we are all of one body, and the joys and pains of any other is our own as well.

Compassion and a heart that has broken open are the natural result of being awake to this truth, and they are no effort at all.


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 (1929 – )
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Thich Nhat Hanh

3 responses so far

Sep 30 2020

Awhad al-Din Kirmani – Swept Away

Published by under Poetry

Swept Away
by Awhad al-Din Kirmani

English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler

At first, the way of your love
seemed easy.

I thought I’d reach
your union
with speed.

After taking a few steps,
I found
the way
is an ocean.

When I stepped in,
a wave swept me away.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler


/ Image by mikebaird /

I love what this poem has to say about the spiritual path…

At first, the way of your love
seemed easy.

I thought I’d reach
your union
with speed.

At the beginning, when we first decide to explore the path of spirit, it can appear all too easy. We imagine we just need to profess a certain belief, join a certain group, read a certain scripture, pray a certain way. Do that, and everything is assured.

Sadly, this is where much of the religious world stays stuck. This approach too often leads to narrow minds and constricted hearts.

After taking a few steps,
I found
the way
is an ocean.

But when we take those first steps beyond that overly simplistic notion and begin to explore more deeply and sincerely, we come to an honesty with ourselves. That honesty overwhelms us, if we let it, by showing us the immense path ahead. So much to strive for within ourselves, so much suffering in the world to soothe… Seeing this, how can one hope to attain heaven, or wholeness, or peace?

In that moment, the best response is one of courageous determination… without expectation. We commit to the patient inner work and outer service, not because of some immediate spiritual “payoff” of enlightenment or fixing of the world’s wrongs, but because, simply, that is what is needed. It is what the heart requires of us, so why do anything less?

Head lowered, we put our shoulders to the task. That’s when the work works on us — challenging, overturning, refining.

At some point, we stop holding back. The effort ceases to be effort and it becomes rhythm, instead. We begin to dance in the waves of the ocean we once feared.

When there is less “doing,” there is less “me” doing it. Laughing, looking around, there is no “me” there, just the movement of the waves endlessly kissing the shoreline.

When I stepped in,
a wave swept me away.


Recommended Books: Awhad al-Din Kirmani

Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition Awhad al-Dīn Kirmānī and the Controversy of the Sufi Gaze


Awhad al-Din Kirmani

(1163 – 1238) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Sep 25 2020

Denise Levertov – Beginners

Published by under Poetry

Beginners
by Denise Levertov

Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea–“

But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet–
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

— from Candles in Babylon, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by ShinyPhotoScotland /

A beautiful, questioning poem by the American poet Denise Levertov. She is holding the Buddhist ideals of compassion and awareness up against the realization of the nature of nonbeing. She asks, how can we let go into nirvana when there is so much undone, and so much cruelty done, and so much beauty we’re disconnected from? How can we leave the living world when there is so much yet unlived?

I think Denise Levertov wants us to struggle and to strive, and discover the communion we share with each other in the process. She wants us to recognize the heaven, or the potential heaven, we already inhabit, before we rush off to vague spiritual realms.

Rather than try to offer a simple answer to the questions she is raising, let me ask what you think… How are compassion, service, respect for each other and the natural world in conflict with the pursuit of spiritual liberation and freedom from the pains of the world? How are they served by it? Does our history of imperfections make the spiritual quest irresponsible? Is the ideal of desirelessness and the awareness of nonbeing just an attempt to escape? Is it appropriate for “beginners,” greatly stumbling beginners, to rush to the end point?

Important questions… The way we answer these questions colors our path to deep awakening.


Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
More Books >>


Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Jewish

More poetry by Denise Levertov

One response so far

Sep 17 2020

Rolf Jacobsen – When They Sleep

Published by under Poetry

When They Sleep
by Rolf Jacobsen

English version by Robert Hedin

All people are children when they sleep.
there’s no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.
They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.
If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
— God, teach me the language of sleep.

— from Night Music: Selected Poems, by Rolf Jacobsen / Translated by Robert Hedin


/ Image by Wayne S. Grazio /

For much of the past year I have been free from chronic fatigue symptoms, but they have been kicking up again in the last few weeks. So today why not a meditation on the easy wisdom of rest and sleep?

In sleep, we rediscover our simple innocent being. We are open, vulnerable, in an odd way supremely present in that unconscious state.

All people are children when they sleep.
there’s no war in them then.

All our careful defenses, which have a way of mutating into unnoticed cruelties, loosen in sleep, and slide off our shoulders like a heavy coat. All harm and armor are set aside.

…a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.

Even when our hearts struggle to trust and rest, we have a built-in biological faith that kicks in at night.

The stars stand guard…

The chest unlocks, and the stifled tide of the breath resumes its flow in and out again.

They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.

Imagine the waking world blessed with such unavoided honesty. Think what words and deeds our blossoming hearts would draw to them.

If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.

I look outside the window to see a hazy morning sun. The call of a lone finch echoes through the morning air. My breath slows and deepens. My eyelids grow heavy.

– God, teach me the language of sleep.


Recommended Books: Rolf Jacobsen

The Winged Energy of Delight The Roads Have Come to an End Now: Selected and Last Poems of Rolf Jacobsen Night Music: Selected Poems North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, A Bilingual Edition Night Open: Selected Poems


Rolf Jacobsen, Rolf Jacobsen poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rolf Jacobsen

Norway (1907 – 1994) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

5 responses so far

Sep 04 2020

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen – There is One God

Published by under Poetry

There is One God
by Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

There is One God.
He created all beings,
And He exists beyond the beyond of religions,
Beyond the separations of race,
Religion, and philosophies.
He is beyond mind, desire, and physical vision
He is beyond the world, lust, torpor, and illusion.
God resides in that spotlessly pure place known as the heart
And sees and knows everything.
He sees each and every heart and mind and understands all things.


/ Image by Muslimnity /

There is One God.
He created all beings…

Several of the short statements of this poem can be read as rather simple, standard religious formulations. But when approached with a deeper understanding and an openness, these statements unfold to reveal profound truths…

That opening line, “there is One God,” for example, is an important affirmation in all of the monotheistic traditions. For many, this is an assertion that their image of God is the right one, while all other ideas of God are false, especially religions that embrace a multiplicity of gods.

For genuine mystics, however, the affirmation of One God is not about surface theologies. In the deepest blissful experiences of communion, the Divine is experienced as a profound, all-encompassing Unity. “There is One God” is another way of saying that God is One, God is Oneness, that all things are One in the Divine Embrace. For the mystic in deepest communion, God is the living Wholeness in which all things have their being.

Properly understood, “There is One God” is not a sectarian war cry, it is an affirmation of the sacred unified nature of reality.

“He created all beings,” similarly can be read as a bland formulation about a creator God, but from the mystic’s perspective it is a statement of observed reality. Mystics often report being flooded with a numinous light which is perceived as filling and animating all of creation. That light is recognized as the underlying strata of existence from which all beings and all things emerge. That living radiance is quite literally the source and creator of all beings.

God resides in that spotlessly pure place known as the heart…

Here again we can read this line as a pretty but rather meaningless statement about some metaphorical heart — or we can settle deeply into ourselves and experience with the mystics the space of the heart, which reveals itself to be a wide-open, bliss and love-filled space in which we come to know ourselves as we truly are in profound simplicity and innocence.

This is the pure space in which we see ourselves not as ourselves but in the image of the true Self, as an emanation of that Divine One.

…And sees and knows everything.

I know that for some who worked hard to escape the rigid ideas of their religious upbringing, a statement like this can trigger negative reactions. Too many religious leaders view God as a sort of cosmic cop, always watching and ready to punish. (I am reminded of that Christmas song, “You better watch out. You better not shout. Santa Claus is coming to town. …He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”) I hope it is obvious that this is not the nature of divine reality.

What then does a statement like this really mean, that God sees and knows everything? We’re not really talking about God as a source of information. What’s the point of God being the heavenly Google? When mystics talk about God seeing everything or knowing everything, they are not talking about data, they are talking about gnosis. Yes, in communion, one’s intuition may become highly refined and the ability to pluck surprisingly insightful pieces of information from the ether may be enhanced, but that is secondary. For many, the experience is as if one is bathing in an immense pool of Knowing itself. It is not so much the endless particles of information one sees as the living fluid that fills the spaces between all of those particles, allowing everything to interrelate and take on meaning within the universal whole. One becomes immersed not in informational knowledge so much as knowingness itself.

And from this state one sees with a compassionate understanding the living web of interconnection we all share.

The statement at the poems center is one of universalism and inclusion–

And He exists beyond the beyond of religions,
Beyond the separations of race,
Religion, and philosophies.

When we overcome simplistic theological explanations and connect more directly with the divine reality, sectarianism, prejudices, and separations fall away.

The universe with its kaleidoscopic diversity of expression is, beneath it all, a living Unity. All beings, all people are born from that same living Oneness. How then can we be troubled by differences in race or religion?


Recommended Books: Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

A Book of God’s Love Song of Muhammad Come to the Secret Garden: Sufi Tales of Wisdom Asma’Ul-Husna: The 99 Beautiful Names of Allah A Mystical Journey
More Books >>


Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

Sri Lanka (1900? – 1986) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Aug 28 2020

Clare of Assisi – Place your mind before the mirror of eternity

Published by under Poetry

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
by Clare of Assisi

English version by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP & Ignatius C. Brady, OFM

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself
      through contemplation!
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
      as they taste the hidden sweetness
      which God Himself has reserved
      from the beginning
      for those who love Him.

— from Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality, Translated by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP / Translated by Ignatius C. Brady, OFM


/ Image by Xavier Mazellier /

I especially like the Clare’s opening line:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!

That could just as easily be a statement from the Buddhist canon. Think about this exhortation for a moment. What does it mean to place one’s mind before the mirror of eternity? The mirror of eternity is that which reflects everything back to us. To place the mind before it is to be utterly naked to oneself. Everything within our awareness is shown back to us, our faults and foibles, as well our victories and inherent goodness — all simply as it is. It is the unblinking view of our own heart. Imagine the steadiness, courage, and supreme humility required to truly do this. To witness our true self that openly, the ego and its constant editing of reality can’t come along.

Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!

A lot of religious language, particularly Christian language, talks about “glory.” The word is used so often that most people just skip over it as churchy filler language. But there is a reason the word “glory” keeps getting used. Glory is radiant, numinous light. Glory is that which shines. Glory is “brilliance.”

For genuine mystics, this light is not empty praise language — it is directly experienced. For the mystic, this light is perceived as being a living radiance that permeates everything, everywhere, always.

The sense of boundaries and separation, long taken for granted by the mind as the fundamental nature of existence, suddenly seems illusory, for this light shines through all people and things.

This is Clare’s “brilliance of glory.”

To “place your soul” in that brilliance is to allow the little self to be disappear into the large Self, like a lamp lost in daylight.

This is the radical path of the mystic, allowing that divine radiance to “transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead.”

I also want to point out the closing reference to “sweetness”:

So that you too may feel what His friends feel
      as they taste the hidden sweetness
      which God Himself has reserved
      from the beginning
      for those who love Him.

Those who lose themselves in the divine light in order to gain the light itself, experience — literally — sweetness on the tongue. This is the amrita of Hinduism, the ambrosia of ancient Greece, the wine of the Sufis.

When one enters the sacred ecstatic state, the sensory portion of the mind does its best to interpret the overwhelming bliss through the senses. This is why many mystics taste the most ethereal sweetness on the palette and at the back of the throat, accompanied by a warmth in the belly and heart.

That sweetness is not just a metaphor; it is real, and “reserved” for each of us, as we become an ever more intimate friend to the Friend.

Reflection, light, transformation, friendship, sweetness…


Recommended Books: Clare of Assisi

Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Voices Through the Ages Sacred Companions Sacred Community: Reflections with Clare of Assisi


Clare of Assisi, Clare of Assisi poetry, Christian poetry Clare of Assisi

Italy (1193? – 1254) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Aug 21 2020

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi – The Moon of Your Love

Published by under Poetry

The Moon of Your Love
by Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

English version by David & Sabrineh Fideler

Not a single soul lacks
a pathway to you.

There’s no stone,
no flower —
not a single piece of straw —
lacking your existence.

In every particle of the world,
the moon of your love
causes the heart
of each atom to glow.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler


/ Image by alicepopkorn /

When I first discovered this poem I instantly fell in love with it.

Not a single soul lacks
a pathway to you.

This simple statement is so profoundly healing to the questing human heart.

In a world that places so many demands upon us, in which we pile up our own countless goals and deadlines, it becomes all too easy to feel lost and separated from the Divine. But it is never so…

There’s no stone,
no flower —
not a single piece of straw —
lacking your existence.

The pathway is to simply and entirely recognize the divine existence already present.

We imagine Herculean efforts are required, isolation, smothering asceticism, travels to exotic lands. We forget that the holiest place we can discover is immediately behind the breastbone.

Every effort, in the end, is to reach exhaustion, until we are finally too tired to continue telling ourselves stories about our lives. Finally, finally we fall silent. Finally, we witness ourselves as we are.

What we discover leaves us speechless.

In every particle of the world,
the moon of your love
causes the heart
of each atom to glow.

Every effort, the entire pathway, leads to precisely one step: a step out of the way. That’s when real opening occurs, and it is effortless. The love and light already present blossom within the heart. And every atom, all the universe, is lit up with us.

(You think I’m just spinning another pretty story, don’t you?)


Recommended Books: Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition A Critical Edition of the Divan of Muhammad Shirin Maghribi


Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Iran/Persia (1349 – 1408) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

3 responses so far

Aug 14 2020

Wendell Berry – Sabbaths 1999, VII

Published by under Poetry

Sabbaths 1999, VII
by Wendell Berry

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

— from Given: Poems, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by Mark Grant-Jones /

It’s been a while since we’ve had a poem by Wendell Berry. And, yes, maybe this poem is for a misty autumn morning, but it suits today just as well…

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing…

That’s the “long lesson,” the slow realization of a lifetime lived with attention: the deep satisfaction of simple moments. Grand experiences may serve as important punctuation marks to life, but it is only when we deeply engage with the gentle flow of small events that we come to know our lives. Remember, real magic is hidden; it is hidden in those quiet moments.

how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

And nature is our constant teacher and guide, again and again bringing us back to ourselves.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.

When we walk well among the woods, with the quiet attention that comes only when self is left behind, we glide through the eternal moment.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be.

And we just might come to recognize the Source of “all this” — right here, within this moment, within our own breast.

Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest…

Berry’s title tells us this poem is about the Sabbath. He understands the real meaning of the Sabbath. It is not the one day out of seven when one goes to church or synagogue. Sabbath is the living moment of sacred rest. It isn’t a question of how often we sit within a steepled hall. Until the mind quiets and comes to rest in the heart, we have not yet honored the Sabbath.

The image of the falling leaf, the reference to the day of rest, this also gently suggests something of death to us. The poet is walking through the woods in autumn and contemplating the how things end, how our own lives play out and come to a close, and there is a quiet contentment. We might find a fullness in that moment of awareness when we simply allow ourselves to be at rest in the natural rhythm of things. Death is not a horror or a source of dread but, in its right time, a strangely sweet yielding, a sabbath.

Whichever day of the week you read this, have a beautiful day of rest and contemplation!


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

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


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

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

5 responses so far

Aug 07 2020

Muhyiddin ibn Arabi – My heart wears all forms

Published by under Poetry

My heart wears all forms
by Muhyiddin ibn Arabi

English version by Ivan M. Granger

My heart wears all forms:

For gazelles it is an open field,
for monks a cloister.

      It is a temple for idols,
      and for pilgrims the Ka’ba.

            It is the Torah’s tablets
            and the pages of the Quran.

Love is the faith I follow.

Whichever path Love’s caravan takes,
      that is my road and my religion.


/ Image by bachmont /

These lines from The Interpreter of Desires are probably Ibn ‘Arabi’s most famous. The entire work is a multi-layered love poem that, like The Song of Solomon in the Bible, can be read as an exploration of the soul’s yearning for God. Ibn ‘Arabi’s poem tells of a pilgrimage to Mecca in which he meets a beautiful young woman named Nizham (Harmony). The ardor awakened by this encounter inspires a quest for the eternal harmony she embodies. Her earthly beauty and grace awakens a yearning for the true Beloved, for God.

My heart wears all forms.

The heart, in this sense, is not just how we feel love, it is the center of our awareness. It is the mirror that reflects whatever we focus on. In other words, the heart, the core of awareness, doesn’t just feel, it takes on the form of what we love. This is why we ultimately become what we love or fixate on, for good and for bad.

When we fall silent, perhaps stunned into silence through a radical encounter with beauty and harmony, we find everything reflected within the heart. Every person. Every creature. Every object. Every thought. We find all of existence reflected within the heart.

And each reflection is recognized as an expression of the Beloved. While we ourselves become formless.

For gazelles it is an open field,
for monks a cloister.

It is a temple for idols,
and for pilgrims the Ka’ba.

It is the Torah’s tablets
and the pages of the Quran.

Can such an awakened heart then reject any school of awakening?

Love is the faith I follow.

Whichever path Love’s caravan takes,
that is my road and my religion.

But, of course, one must understand what real religion is. It is not stone walls or steeples. It is not crosses or crescents. It is neither creeds nor rituals nor books. Though any one of these, properly approached, can open the door.

Like all true masters, Ibn ‘Arabi reminds us that the true religion is nothing less than Love.

This is an all-embracing vision of reality in which the heart has grown wide enough to recognize everyone and everything at rest within itself. An overwhelming, blissful experience of wholeness, interconnectedness, and joy. Words fail, but that pulse of the universal life does not.

That is what religion is. That is the road.


Recommended Books: Muhyiddin ibn Arabi

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) The Mystics of Islam Stations of Desire: Love Elegies from Ibn ‘Arabi and New Poems Perfect Harmony: (Calligrapher’s Notebooks)
More Books >>


Muhyiddin ibn Arabi, Muhyiddin ibn Arabi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Muhyiddin ibn Arabi

Spain (1165 – 1240) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

Continue Reading »

One response so far

Jul 31 2020

Navajo Prayer – May it be beautiful

Published by under Poetry

Navajo Prayer – May it be beautiful
by Navajo (Anonymous)

English version by Gladys A. Reichard

Dark young pine, at the center of the earth originating,
I have made your sacrifice.
Whiteshell, turquoise, abalone beautiful,
Jet beautiful, fool’s gold beautiful, blue pollen beautiful,
Red pollen, pollen beautiful, your sacrifice I have made.
This day your child I have become, I say.

Watch over me.
Hold your hand before me in protection.
Stand guard for me, speak in defense of me.
As I speak for you, speak for me.
      May it be beautiful before me.
      May it be beautiful behind me.
      May it be beautiful below me.
      May it be beautiful above me.
      May it be beautiful all around me.

      I am restored in beauty.
      I am restored in beauty.
      I am restored in beauty.
      I am restored in beauty.

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


/ Image by Russ Seidel /

I have come across several variations of this prayer-poem; they all manage to return me to my feet and bring me into quiet awe of the moment.

This version, with its introductory offering to the pine tree is especially moving to me. According to ethnographic notes, this version of the prayer was evoked during healing ceremonies performed in front of a sacred pine tree. The pine tree here is the pillar of life that stands “at the center of the earth,” the world navel, the center of being. This pine is the mediator between heaven and earth, a bridge or doorway between the two realms. This is a healing ceremony performed at the point where the sacred and the mundane touch. And that is where we witness the beauty that heals.

I love the evocation: “This day your child I have become, I say.” Right relationship is restored. More than restored, it is recognized. The soul uncontracts when it remembers it is the child of something profound, alive, divine… and beautiful.
May you be restored in beauty.


Recommended Books: Navajo (Anonymous)

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions


Navajo (Anonymous)

US (19th Century) Timeline
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : American Indian

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jul 27 2020

Kahlil Gibran – Reason and Passion

Published by under Poetry

Reason and Passion
by Kahlil Gibran

And the priestess spoke again and said: Speak to us of Reason and Passion.
And he answered, saying:
Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house.
Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.

Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows — then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.”
And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, — then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”
And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran


/ Image by zabaraorg /

This is such an interesting section of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” especially the way he emphasizes the positive nature of passion. Religious and spiritual traditions, both East and West, have a tendency to want to control or even suppress passion. Passion is sex. Passion is emotion. Passion is powerful, intense, turbulent.

Gibran acknowledges that “passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.” Passion, without limitation or conscious guidance, can become a chaotic, consuming force in our lives. But he does not say we should get rid of passion or that reason should subjugate it. He speaks in terms of balanced, integrated use of passion in our lives.

Passion is the engine in our lives. Gibran gives us the image of a ship: passion is the ship’s sails, and reason is the rudder. The sails catch the power of the wind, propelling the ship forward. Passion is power, vitality, life!

But movement without direction is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, can lead us onto rocks. That is why we need the rudder of reason to intelligently use the power of passion’s movement so that we can reach our destination.

One is not “good” and the other “bad.” Both reason and passion are necessary. They must be understood, brought into harmony, used effectively to balance each other.

This may sound like a bit of a tangent, but I’m reminded of the imagery of the Christian Nativity. 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 the reasoning mind. 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 the Christ child. 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 harmonious integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.

I especially like Kahlil Gibran’s summations at the end–

“God rests in reason.”

“God moves in passion.”

Movement and stillness, when we balance both we have discovered how to dance!


Recommended Books: Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet The Beloved: Reflections on the Path of the Heart Broken Wings Jesus the Son of Man Kahlil Gibran: His Life & World
More Books >>


Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran poetry, Christian poetry Kahlil Gibran

Lebanon/US (1883 – 1931) Timeline
Christian
Secular or Eclectic

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Jul 17 2020

Francis of Assisi – The Canticle of Brother Sun

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Canticle of Brother Sun
by Francis of Assisi

English version by Ivan M. Granger

My Lord most high, all-powerful, all-good,
Celebration, light, and all sweet blessings are yours,
      yours alone.
No man speaks
      who can speak your Name.

Praise to you, my Lord, and to all beings of your creation!
Praise especially to brother sun,
      who fills the day with light
      — through whom you shine!
Beautiful and bright, magnificent with splendor,
He shows us your Face.

Praise to my Lord for sister moon
      and for the stars.
You have formed them in the firmament,
      fine and rare and fair.
Praise to you, Lord, for brother wind,
      for the air, for the clouds,
      for fair days and every turn of weather
      — through which you feed the world.

Praise to my Lord for sister water,
      precious and pure, who selflessly serves all.

Praise to my Lord for brother fire,
      through whom you fill the dark with light.
Lovely is he in his delight, mighty and strong.

Praise to my Lord for our sister, mother earth,
      who nourishes us and surrounds us
      in a world ripe with fruit, pregnant
            with grassy fields,
            spangled with flowers.

Praise to my Lord for those seeking your love,
      who discover within themselves forgiveness,
      rejecting neither frailty nor sorrow.
Enduring in serenity, they are blessed,
For they shall be crowned by your hand, Most High.

Praise to my Lord for our sister death,
      the body’s death,
      whom none avoid.
A great sadness for those who die having missed life’s mark;
Yet blessed they whose way
      is your most holy will —
Having died once, the second death
      does them no ill.

Sing praises!
Offer holy blessings to my Lord!
In gratitude, selflessly offer yourself to him.

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


/ Image by rkramer62 /

Thank you to everyone who sent a note of concern about my absence from these poetry emails. I apologize about that unannounced pause. Let me reassure you that I am doing well and my health is okay. The reason I haven’t sent any poems during this past month or so is because my wife’s mother needed to go to the hospital, then hospice care, and then passed away. (Her death was not related to the current pandemic, however.)

Since my wife was her mother’s only relative, she bore a heavy burden in caring for her and in handling each new challenge and crisis as it arose. It is a profoundly difficult balance to deal with the whirlwind of decisions and responsibilities while also feeling the grief and complex emotions surrounding a close family member’s death. I went through all of this myself when both of my parents died about ten years ago. I was also an only child, but my mother had an extended family of many sisters who helped with everything. My wife has been on her own in dealing with her mother’s death, having only me to help her.

So we have been dealing with nurses and doctors and hospital administrators, sometimes having to fight with them on her mother’s behalf. Worrying questions of nursing homes and healthcare coverage switched to meetings with hospice care workers, who are the saints of the healthcare world. We wrestled with the uncomfortable questions of burial versus cremation and meetings with funeral home directors. We did a weekend sprint to move all of her mother’s worldly possessions from her tiny apartment before month’s end, rapidly sorting through things of emotional significance as if they were random objects that take up too much space. We navigated the bureaucracy necessary to close out financial accounts. I say ‘we’ but much of that effort was led by my wife. While I have helped in all the ways I could as well as acting as emotional support, I have primarily been pushing to keep my work hours high in my day job through all of this so that, in the midst of everything else, my wife can also take time to grieve without worrying about her own work.

Death is such a huge event, the final life passage. I like to think of it as our final initiation, our graduation ceremony. It is quite a challenge to find the balance that allows us to hold the appropriate sense of reverence in the midst of so many pressing practical demands. As a poet and a spiritual practitioner, I naturally want to be internal, contemplative and, of course, a loving presence to the person crossing such a profound threshold, but it takes real skill to accomplish all that is necessary and still hold that inner sacred space.

I continually stand in wonder at the immensity and beauty and crushing challenges of this human life — as well as its closure. I am in awe of every single person on this planet: we all walk a courageous path through this life.

St. Francis composed his masterpiece, the Canticle of Brother Sun, in three parts. The first part in praise of the beauty and holiness of nature as a reflection of the Divine, was written in the Spring of 1225, immediately after he received the stigmata during an extended meditation retreat among a group of caves.

The second section, the segment on forgiveness and peace, was composed soon after, perhaps in response to the squabbling of political and religious authorities in Assisi.

The final verses were written late the following year as St. Francis was dying, in which he seems to be greeting “sister death.”

This hymn is one of the first great works written in Italian. At the time, Latin was the language of the Church and of learning. Yet, as part of Francis’s humility and affinity with the common people, he composed this praise poem in simple Italian so all could be inspired by it.

Praise for brother sun and sister moon, for the living wind and water and fire and earth. Praise for love and peace, without which the living awareness collapses to barrenness. And praise to death, too, who, in the fulness of time, brings completion and life’s final initiation. Through this poem we witness the whole pageant of life as it expresses itself through us and all the world.

Be well, everyone — and bright blessings!


Recommended Books: Francis of Assisi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time
More Books >>


Francis of Assisi, Francis of Assisi poetry, Christian poetry Francis of Assisi

Italy (1181 – 1226) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Next »