Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Jan 24 2020

Rabindranath Tagore – On many an idle day

Published by under Poetry

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time. But it is never lost, my lord. Thou hast taken every moment of my life in thine own hands.
      Hidden in the heart of things thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.
      I was tired and sleeping on my idle bed and imagined all work had ceased. In the morning I woke up and found my garden full with wonders of flowers.

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

/ Image by James Petts /

Something for self-healing and inner nurturing today…

This chapter from Tagore’s Gitanjali, like most of the book, is addressed directly to God as a sort of a prayer. But Tagore is not asking for something. He is acknowledging a surprising truth, he is proclaiming to God the dawning realization that growth is taking place in his “garden” of spiritual awareness always, secretly, quietly, even when he despairs of his own efforts. He “imagined all work had ceased” — he felt his own spiritual work had come to nothing and his deflated spirit temporarily gives up — but he wakes up surprised to find his “garden full with wonders of flowers.” This happens all the time for those striving spiritually, but why?

The metaphor of a garden to represent one’s spiritual awareness is an ancient one used throughout the world, and it is perfect for what is being said here. Think about a garden for a moment. What is it? First, it is a place where things grow, a place of life. It is the opposite of death, which is the state of nonspirituality. The plants of the garden are rooted in the earth, yet they reach upward toward the light of the sun. On an even subtler level, a garden is a place of nourishment and of beauty. That which grows in our spiritual gardens feeds us through its “fruitfulness,” and it brings beauty, the awareness of harmony to our consciousness. The flowers of the garden represent the spiritual qualities that have opened within us, which in turn cause us to open to the Divine. The flowers are within us, and we are the flowers. From the yogic point of view, the flowers sometimes represent the chakras that open during spiritual awakening. Also, a garden is a place of contemplation and rest. It is a place where we give ourselves permission to simply be, to settle into the present moment. The garden represents the soul at rest in the living presence of the Divine.

But, returning to this verse from the Gitanjali, why is a garden such a perfect metaphor here? Because every plant of the garden grows with a life of its own. The gardener, the spiritual aspirant, may need to till the ground and plant the seeds, water them regularly, keep them free from encroaching weeds — but for all that work, the gardener does not actually make the seeds grow and flower. The gardener just prepares the environment, but it is the divine spark of life “hidden in the heart of all things” that nourishes “seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.”

Tagore is surprised to realize that his only job is to prepare the garden bed and keep it ready, but the growth of the seeds is effortless, for the seeds are alive with the vitality of God. Even when he can conceive of no further effort, the seeds still grow. The seeds WANT to grow. And they will grow. It is their nature to grow once given the right environment. All we have to do is prepare ourselves, make ourselves ready. The spiritual growth will happen of its own accord. Then one morning we wake up surrounded by “wonders of flowers!”

Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>

Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Jan 21 2020

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – Rise early at dawn

Published by under Poetry

Rise early at dawn, when our storytelling begins
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

Rise early at dawn, when our storytelling begins.
In the dead of the night, when all other doors are locked,
the door for the Lovers to enter opens.
Be wide awake in the dark when Lovers
begin fluttering around the Beloved’s window,
like homing pigeons arriving with flaming bodies.

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

/ Image by legends2k /

As I get older I more easily rise at dawn. Sometimes I am trying to sleep in, but the dawn insists. Reading these words by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir, however, makes me want to wake up full of energy in the middle of the night. That’s when our storytelling begins.

Actually, let’s not hurry past that reference to storytelling. It’s in the darkness that we tell stories. In a world before electricity or gas lights, nighttime is the end of activity. So we tell stories. Nighttime is when we normally sleep, and dream.

But most of us do this rather passively. We listen to another person’s story. Or in the modern world, perhaps we watch television. We go to sleep, we dream, we wake up, we forget.

Not so for the seeker. The stories we tell ourselves are the stories of the soul, the way the self understands itself. In dreams and stories we reformulate our perception of the world, deepen it. And in doing so the psyche becomes more dynamic and alive to its own possibilities.

Most people imagine life shuts down at night, but a lover knows better. When the rest of the world rests, the lover finds those sweet illicit moments with the Beloved. Even if it’s just a glimpse, a smile through the window’s lattice, that is what the lover lives for. We light up, we catch fire in the night.

Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

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

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 15 2020

Czeslaw Milosz – Late Ripeness

Published by under Poetry

Late Ripeness
by Czeslaw Milosz

English version by Robert Hass

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget — I kept saying — that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef — they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

— from New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001, by Czeslaw Milosz

/ Image by Sathish J /

This is one of my favorite poems by Czeslaw Milosz. I hope you feel it too…

Try reading those early lines again:

I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

Notice how the breaking of the line influences the meaning. It is not written “I felt… / I entered…” separating it into two logical statements. Instead, the first line is “I felt… and I entered.” There the line stops, forcing us to stop as well and consider it as a statement complete in itself. And once we enter, we are almost overwhelmed by the next line; it is as if, at that point, all of existence has become “the clarity of early morning.”

That sense is further emphasized by the next lines, “One after another my former lives were departing, / like ships, together with their sorrow.” Milosz is describing how the weight of one’s personal history, the burden of past identity and the actions that seemed to give it reality, all of that is washed away in the flood of that light. Not even washed away; “departing,” gently drifting away. Reading that line, I have the sense of those laden ships, not sailing away, but fading out, like gloomy phantoms ever looking backward suddenly caught in the brilliance of dawn.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

The lines of this poem have an intuitive recognition of the unity at rest beneath the jangle and hurts of life. It is a recognition that allows for forgiveness… and self-forgiveness.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

So much suffering in the world, so much grief and anxiety we ourselves carry, and all of that purely for want of the unfathomed gifts and inner beauty we carry hidden within us. We hold ourselves back and so starve the world, and starve ourselves too. Why not instead give from our abundance? Why not act with boldness and beauty? That’s what we’re here for, aren’t we?

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

Yet these observations of missed opportunity are made without harsh critique. The poet seems forgiving as he reviews life in his late ripeness. Yes, he has felt pain, and caused pain too, and, yes, much of it could have been averted, but there seems to be a tone of… contentment, as if it has all been a story told by striving but imperfect actors.

Whatever sorrow held by one’s personal history, it just seems to be vanishing over the horizon

Have a beautiful day today! Find some new ways to give the world more of the gifts you hold.

Recommended Books: Czeslaw Milosz

New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001 The Collected Poems Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness To Begin Where I Am: The Selected Prose of Czeslaw Milosz A Treatise on Poetry
More Books >>

Czeslaw Milosz, Czeslaw Milosz poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Czeslaw Milosz

Poland (1911 – 2004) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

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Jan 06 2020

Macy, Barker and Leonard – Ecosattva Vows

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Ecosattva Vows
by Joanna Macy

Composed in collaboration between Joanna Macy and One Earth Sangha’s co-founders, Kristin Barker and Lou Leonard

– – –

Based on my love of the world and understanding of deep interdependence of all things, I vow

      To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products and energy I consume.
      To commit myself daily to the healing of the world and the welfare of all beings; to discern and replace human systems of oppression and harm.
      To invite personal discomfort as an opportunity to share in the challenge of our collective liberation.
      To draw inspiration, strength and guidance from the living Earth, from our ancestors and the future generations, and from our siblings of all species.
      To help others in their work for the world and to ask for help when I feel the need.
      To pursue a daily spiritual practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart and supports me in observing these vows.

/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

This is a hard one, but a hopeful one…

I had a lovely Christmas, though it was a modest one. If you have read recent Poetry Chaikhana emails, you know that we had to replace our family car a few weeks ago. Here in Colorado, especially in the winter, having a reliable car is essential. We are so grateful that we had the money to put down a deposit and purchase a car right away. So that was our main gift to each other this Christmas. We had a beautiful holiday. We lit candles Christmas Eve, burned frankincense on Christmas Day, played Joan Baez’s Noel on the stereo, watched as our dog gleefully shredded the wrapping paper from our few other gifts to each other. It filled my heart.

The day after Christmas, something strange happened: the tip of my nose started getting large and bulbous and red. We made jokes about Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. I looked like old cartoons depicting someone who drank too much, which we laughed about because I don’t drink at all. Whatever it was, it seemed to go away after a day. But another day passed and then the whole left side of my face began to swell up and turn bright red.

When that didn’t go away after a day, and my temperature started to rise, it became a serious crisis for us. Being Americans and without health insurance, we knew that if I went to the hospital, that would bankrupt us, especially after having just committing most of our savings to our car purchase. We had to do that terrible assessment so many Americans do these days of deciding blindly just how serious the situation is. I mean, when I broke my ribs about 10 years ago, I never went to a doctor or a hospital, I just toughed it out for a miserable few weeks, but I survived and got past it. This time, however, something told me that whatever I was dealing with was different and I shouldn’t just wait it out.

Feeling very sick at this point, I went online and started researching options other than the hospital in my area. I found an urgent care facility not far away, where the typical expense was several hundred dollars rather than the several thousand dollars of a hospital visit, not counting the cost of any tests or treatments. I went there hoping they wouldn’t need me to do a bunch of tests or just send me to the hospital anyway. They examined me and it turned out that I had picked up a bacterial infection, relatively easy to treat with antibiotics, though quite dangerous if untreated. I had made the right decision and found an option that avoided financial crisis.

I have spent the time since healing and recovering — and feeling immense relief that my wife and I are okay financially. Sadly, many people are in much worse circumstances than we were in.

But, as I have been recovering and getting into the rhythms of the new year, I have been watching heartbreaking images of the wildfires all across Australia. In my vulnerable state, I have been especially empathizing with the people and the communities, the wildlife and the land itself, all being devastated by those massive fires. Such terrible destruction is a tragic warning to all of us to not tolerate delays or half-measures on climate change legislation and international environmental agreements.

And, of course, I have to mention the news of the American assassination of General Soleimani and the Iraqi official al-Muhandis, at Baghdad International Airport. This seems like an act by the Trump administration intended to provoke a war or at least an attempt to dramatically heighten tensions with Iran, while also being an unforgivable insult to the sovereignty of the country of Iraq. Too much is in motion right now to say with confidence what will result, but the main question is how much suffering will results in the world from this action.

I think for many people the year ended with some hope but the new year has begun with fear. Fear is not the stopping point, however. It is meant to be a doorway. What we first experience as fear or anxiety or even dread can, with attention, transform itself into a flinty clarity about what is actually happening, which then crystallizes our true priorities, prompting us to take necessary action.

Hope does not come from easy experiences. Hope comes from having the courage to face difficult truths and be changed by that encounter. Remade, we naturally remake the world around us. Sometimes this is because we are newly inspired to overt activism and service. But it can be in modest ways, as well, in our daily interactions, the way we move in the world, the way our individual insights filter into the group awareness. The energies we embody always — always– affect the world around us, both through action and through resonance.

What is most important is that we don’t freeze up and grow numb, holding to some idea of who we once were or what the world once was. Movement, even clumsy movement, is so important because movement is life. Through movement we encounter and discover and further awaken. Through movement we feel, which is not always comfortable, but feeling too feeds our life and our awakening. If we feel pain, if we feel heartbreak, then so be it; that is in the world too and our inherent compassionate nature calls to us through it, just as much as through joy, which is also there.

This is the adventure life offers to us. Despite what we so strongly want to believe, it is not always meant to be comfortable or easy or pristine. To be alive is itself an act of incomprehensible magic and wonder. Through the simple fact of life, every one of us is a being of immense courage, and we have capabilities beyond our imaginings. Let us use this difficult moment as it was meant to be used, to renew our vision of ourselves, to reawaken our energies and our presence in the world, and to recommit to the family of life on this beautiful earth.

To commit myself daily to the healing of the world and the welfare of all beings…

Sending love to you all.

Joanna Macy

US (Contemporary)

More poetry by Joanna Macy

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Dec 17 2019

Gabriel Rosenstock – frosty morning

frosty morning
by Gabriel Rosenstock

frosty morning
      a robin bares his breast
            to the whole world

— from Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition, by Gabriel Rosenstock

/ Image by Richard Towell /

A frosty morning here in Colorado.

It still has that special sense of life to me, like a newborn: the Poetry Chaikhana’s latest publication, Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock. I couldn’t help but feature another selection from its pages, this by the author himself.

Remember poetry when you are planning gifts and maybe a year-end treat for yourself. Purchasing a copy of Haiku Enlightenment is a wonderful way to welcome the magic of haiku into your home, as well as Gabriel’s inspired observations on haiku as a pathway of awareness, compassion, and reconnection. And, of course, your purchase helps support the Poetry Chaikhana.

If you are on Facebook, I have just set up new Haiku Enlightenment Facebook page inspired by the new book. Personally, I’m always happy to see a haiku or short poem slip into my FB newsfeed when I check it — a secret invitation to pause, take a breath, and notice the world again. I invite you to visit and hang out with the haiku.

Okay, time to step out into that chilly morning and fill my lungs with the crisp air. The world awaits.

Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: Gabriel Rosenstock

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Bliain an Bhandé – Year of the Goddess Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition Uttering Her Name Where Light Begins: Haiku
More Books >>

Gabriel Rosenstock, Gabriel Rosenstock poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Gabriel Rosenstock

Ireland (1949 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : Celtic

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Dec 10 2019

Book Announcement: Haiku Enlightenment

Published by under Books,Poetry

does the woodpecker
by Kobayashi Issa

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

does the woodpecker
      stop and listen, too?
            evening temple drum

— from Haiku Enlightenment: New Expanded Edition, by Gabriel Rosenstock

Book Announcement: Haiku Enlightenment

I am so pleased to announce the Poetry Chaikhana’s newest publication: Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock, a favorite of Poetry Chaikhana readers for years.

In Haiku Enlightenment Gabriel Rosenstock uses haiku, both classic and modern, to explore perception and creativity, self and ego, the natural world and the wide-open moment. Through Gabriel Rosenstock’s eyes, the path of haiku becomes a path of enlightenment.

Rosenstock brings to his writing something of the shaman, the sage, and a bit of the prankster. I think of him as a poet in the ancient sense as someone deeply engaged with the vast mystery, from which poetry, song, and riddles naturally emerge.

True to the haiku spirit, the observations in Haiku Enlightenment are short and without embellishment. Taken together, however, they present us with a master class on the art and insight of haiku by a western master of haiku.

Like you, probably like the author himself, I cringe a bit at the use of the term “master,” but in Gabriel’s case it is entirely appropriate. Since I have featured Gabriel’s poems many times over the years, he feels like a familiar friend to the Poetry Chaikhana, so you may not realize just how accomplished and renowned he is. Gabriel Rosenstock has given readings throughout Europe, India, the Americas, and Japan. His poetry has won multiple awards and been published in World Haiku Review, Poetry (Chicago), Poetry Ireland Review and other prestigious journals. He is a member of Aosdána (the Irish Academy of Arts and Letters), former chairman of Poetry Ireland/Éigse Éireann, on the Board of Advisors to Poetry India, and a Foundation Associate of The Haiku Foundation.

An impressive list of accomplishments. But that is not the Gabriel Rosenstock I have come to know through years of correspondence. I suspect he would consider focusing on such honors to be a hindrance. His secret, I think, is that he is too prolific to pause in self-satisfaction. Every few weeks I receive a flood of new haiku from him in my email in-box, which then gives me permission to halt the rush of my day in order to step quietly into his observed moments and so return in some essential way back to myself.

Where does that endless creativity come from? How does spiritual practice produce the most luminous poetry, and how does poetry become a doorway into our own awakening? Haiku Enlightenment is a rich, poetic meditation on all of those questions. Using haiku as his medium, Gabriel Rosenstock has given us a visionary artist’s guide on how to be present… and how to disappear.

I can’t express how pleased I am to be able to offer this book to the Poetry Chaikhana and to the wider community of poetry lovers and spiritual seekers.

It is perfect to read just a page or two at a time to set the tone for the day, when beginning meditation or prayer practice, when facing the blank page, or just before a walk in nature. You don’t have to be a poet or even a reader of haiku, you just have to be curious about your own awareness and in love with the magic of small moments. Though, as you read Haiku Enlightenment, who knows what poetry might spontaneously emerge from your pen?

Sending love to everyone during this season of renewal and reawakening light that we variously call Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, and the New Year.


Haiku Enlightenment
New Expanded Edition

by Gabriel Rosenstock


£12.99 / €15.25

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.

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Nov 26 2019

Basho – snow-viewing

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Come, let’s go
by Matsuo Basho

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Come, let’s go
till we’re buried.

— from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto

/ Image by dadofliz /

I am sitting here at my computer reading poetry in snow boots. I just came in from shoveling the sidewalk. It looks like we might get two feet of snow today.

My car is in the shop and probably needs to be replaced. After 15 years of loyal service, it died on the road just as the first snowflakes started falling yesterday. In the space of a few blocks of driving it went from running fine, to making a strange noise, to completely dying. I had to jog half a mile in the snow to my home because I don’t have a cell phone, call a tow truck, and then watch as our car got hoisted up on the truck bed, and ride with it to the repair shop.

Rather than going into anxiety about the whole situation in the midst of the increasing snow, I found myself… dare I say it?… content. Even entertained. Accepting the situation for what it is, I rode along with the events. It became a sort of adventure.

I’m being told that it’s probably not worth the cost of repairs at this point, so in a few days, when we dig ourselves out, I will be shopping for another car.

A longtime car becomes a sort of family member, like a pet or trusted workhorse. Some people may feel it’s silly, but I’m fond of that old car and there is a bit of sadness at saying goodbye. I hope to adopt a new wheeled family member who becomes just as much of a friend.

Thankfully, past chronic fatigue patterns have been in abeyance for most of the past year, so I have been working more hours at my day job and I have a small amount saved that can now be used as a down payment for our next car.

When events just happen and there is no avoiding their cascading onslaught, sometimes the best option is just to grow still, enjoy the scene, and laugh as we are buried.

So, with no car at the moment and nearly two feet of snow on the ground and with more snow falling, it is a good day to pause and go snow-viewing…

That phrase “snow-viewing” may seem rather odd, if poetic, but it is actually a playful twist on the Japanese practice of tsukimi or moon-viewing. In Japan, there is a tradition of moon-viewing in autumn. Towns have moon-viewing festivals, a family might invite friends over for moon-viewing. To me, as an outsider, that sounds like a beautiful way for all of society to slow down and appreciate the masterful artwork of nature, communing with the rhythms of the world. Basho’s snow-viewing is an expansion of that idea — inviting a friend to step outside in order to appreciate the beauty of a recent snowfall in quiet companionship and shared ritual.

Particularly the Zen poetry, snow often carries with it the suggestion of deeper meanings we might want to explore.

When the difficulties and coldness and enforced internalization of winter are emphasized, snow can represent the struggles of spiritual practice that precede the spiritual awakening of spring.

When the silence that settles of the world bathed in snow is emphasized, it can represent the perfect stillness of mind that occurs in true meditation.

When the quality of blanketing all things in a uniform whiteness is highlighted, snow can be seen as an allusion to the unifying white or golden-white light that shines through everything, the light one perceives when the mind awakens.

This haiku by Basho can carry variations of all of these meanings, but especially the last one.

Notice the joke in these lines: By viewing the snow we become buried in it — and that is what Basho is really inviting us to do. With a lot of snow (and a dash of wit), Basho might be saying that by viewing something deeply, we become the beauty we perceive. Seeing the universal radiance, we become the radiance. Hearing the silence, we become the silence. Witness the eternal, and we become consumed by it, the ego self becomes lost in the blanket of white that covers everything, making all of existence one.

Have a beautiful day, with or without snow! And be warm and safe!

Recommended Books: Matsuo Basho

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Haiku Enlightenment The Four Seasons: Japanese Haiku
More Books >>

Matsuo Basho, Matsuo Basho poetry, Buddhist poetry Matsuo Basho

Japan (1644 – 1694) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Nov 22 2019

Guru Nanak – From listening (Japji 8)

Published by under Poetry

[Japji 8] From listening
by Guru Nanak

English version by John Stratton Hawley and Mark Juergensmeyer

From listening,
      Siddhas, Pirs, Gods, Naths–
      the spiritually adept;

From listening,
      the earth, its white foundation,
      and the sky;

From listening,
      continents, worlds, hells;

From listening,
      death cannot approach.

Nanak says,
      those who hear
            flower forever.

From listening,
      sin and sorrow

— from Songs of the Saints of India, Translated by John Stratton Hawley / Translated by Mark Juergensmeyer

A song for us today by Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh tradition, about listening.

From listening…

Listening is a powerful practice on several levels. On one level, listening is the act of paying attention in an open and receptive manner. When we really pay attention we do more than notice people and things, we connect with them, we commune with them. Through open, engaged attention we become one with the world around us.

In this way, through deep listening, everything is found to be within us, and we exist within the all. The awareness of mutual being emerges.

But there is another, specific meaning of listening intended here, as well. Guru Nanak is also clearly giving a teaching on listening to the fundamental sound of creation, In various Indian traditions this primal sound is called shabd or Omkara/Onkar.

When the attention is turned inward a soft sound is heard. At first it might be like the quiet chirping of crickets in the night, the hum of beesong, or the flowing of a gentle stream. It is heard as a random, soothing “white noise” that seems to emanate from the base of the skull. When focused upon with a still mind and deep attention, this sound resolves into a clearer pitch that can resemble the pure note of a flute (Krishna’s flute in Vaishnava tradition) or the ringing of a bell (the bells of paradise in esoteric Christianity). First it is heard and, finally, felt throughout the body.

Many mystics compare this sound with the sound of a waterfall, and as the awareness bathes in this sound it becomes purified, “cleansed.” The heart is like a moss-covered stone at the foot of the waterfall. The more we allow the sounding waters to flow, that encrustation on the heart is cleared away. We may just be shocked to discover what we thought was granite beneath is a actually a great jewel, brilliant and emanating pure bliss.

The heart’s joy is always there, we just need to clear away the moss.

From listening,
      Siddhas, Pirs, Gods, Naths–
      the spiritually adept

Guru Nanak lists various names for adepts and the enlightened. This sound is the doorway into states of spiritual attainment.

Hearing the omkara signals the beginning of deep meditation. It is the tone of initiation. The more we open to the sound, the more the attention is drawn heavenward while the divine flow pours through us.

From listening,
      the earth, its white foundation,
      and the sky

Why does Guru Nanak link the earth and the sky to this sound? It is through this sound, this wordless Word, that all of manifest existence comes into being. This is the vibratory breath of the Eternal that sings creation into form. The earth and the sky and every being that moves between them are born through this sound. This sacred tone moves through existence, reifying all.

Why does Guru Nanak give us this curious statement about the “white foundation” of the earth? I suspect he is referencing the white or golden-white light that is witnessed in the deepest states. This light is perceived as underlying and supporting all of creation — its foundation.

From listening,
      death cannot approach.

By following this sound we recollect our nature and ultimately return to the source of the song. We come to know ourselves in our essence, and lessen our identification our physical form and social roles. Death does not affect who and what we truly are. We discover this by listening.

Nanak says,
      those who hear
            flower forever.

Omkara is the sound of the movement of the divine through us. Hearing that sound, allowing it to flow generously through us, we open in unexpected and delightful ways. It is the flow of sap that inspires us to blossom into our full potential.

From listening,
      sin and sorrow

Hearing this, what is there to fear? We don’t have to convince ourselves of this, it just is. Listening to this constant reassuring presence, the psychic constrictions we carry with us naturally ease. The waterfall bathes us, the heart clears. We become simply and honestly who we are — and what a beautiful being that is!

From listening…


Coming Soon: Haiku Enlightenment

Several of you sent me some beautiful messages and comments after last week’s poem. I have read them all and been touched by your stories. The reason I haven’t responded directly is that I have been deeply engaged in the preparation of the Poetry Chaikhana’s newest publication — Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock. You may recognize him from poems I have featured on the Poetry Chaikhana before. Gabriel Rosenstock is an Irish sage, a bit of a prankster… oh yes, and a renowned poet. This new book is a rich, wise and playful exploration of the art of haiku by a western master of haiku. I am so pleased to be able to offer this book through the Poetry Chaikhana.

With my limited personal time, I have to be selective about each new book project I work on. In the past I had imagined publishing a series of poetry collections or anthologies by contemporary spiritual poets and mystics, which I may still do in the future, but I realized that poetry on its own is not the primary focus of the Poetry Chaikhana. The heart of the Poetry Chaikhana is poetry paired with conversational commentary that opens up the poetry as well as encourages new avenues of spiritual exploration. Gabriel Rosenstock’s Haiku Enlightenment is a perfect fit for the Poetry Chaikhana. It is a delightful collection of brief observations that use haiku to explore ideas about creativity, perception, consciousness, and being alive to the moment.

For some of you, the title Haiku Enlightenment may sound familiar. This is actually not the first edition, but a greatly expanded new edition. A much smaller hardback edition of Haiku Enlightenment was published about ten years ago. I immediately recognized that original edition as a small masterpiece, but I was concerned that it hadn’t garnered the attention it deserved and, within a few years, it was in danger of disappearing, That old edition has become so difficult to find in many areas that just a few days ago I noticed it selling on the US Amazon site for more than $1,000!

Rest assured that you will be able to get the Poetry Chaikhana’s new expanded edition for a much more affordable rate of $16.95/£12.95/€14.25. Our new edition of Haiku Enlightenment includes an updated version of that original small volume, along with another short companion book previously published as Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing and several new sections not previously published, all gathered together in a single volume.

In publishing this new expanded edition of Haiku Enlightenment I hope to make Gabriel Rosenstock’s poetic and spiritual insights available to a much wider audience who may have missed the earlier editions. I also want to make sure that it remains available at an affordable price for future readers.

I will be enthusiastically recommending this book to aspiring poets, artists, readers of haiku — and creative seekers of all types.

Haiku Enlightenment will be available mid-December. I hope it will make a good gift for the person in your life who loves haiku, creativity, and discovering the unexpected along their own spiritual pathway. Perhaps that person is you.

Recommended Books: Guru Nanak

Songs of the Saints of India The Mystic in Love: A Treasury of Mystical Poetry The Guru Granth Sahib: CAnon, Meaning and Authority Sri Guru Granth Sahib Discovered: A Reference Book of Quotations Sri Guru Granth Sahib
More Books >>

Guru Nanak, Guru Nanak poetry, Sikh poetry Guru Nanak

Pakistan/India (1469 – 1539) Timeline

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Nov 15 2019

Yoka Genkaku – The virtue of abusive words

Published by under Poetry

When I consider the virtue of abusive words (from The Shodoka)
by Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

English version by Robert Aitken

When I consider the virtue of abusive words,
I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.
If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.
To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression,
And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.
Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the same way.

/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

This opening line is meant to be humorous. I picture the Buddhist monks of China and Japan laughing as they read this short poetic discourse on “the virtue of abusive words.”

But the poet is also saying something very important to the sincere spiritual aspirant.

I find the scandal-monger is my good teacher.

People who offend us, who spread rumors and lies, those we might think of as enemies or petty tyrants are sometimes our best teachers. They continuously pressure test the maturity of our practice.

It is easy to go along thinking, ‘Oh, my meditation is getting so deep and I think such kind thoughts about people,’ but when someone offends that carefully constructed spiritual facade, do we instantly boil over with outrage? Does it suddenly become essential that we correct their false perception of us?

No matter how offensive or cruel the other person may be acting, our reaction is about ego. Are we getting proper acknowledgment for who we are and what we have accomplished? -Which is a question only the ego asks.

The poet then says something especially interesting:

If we do not become angry at gossip,
We have no need for powerful endurance and compassion.

All of that spiritual practice we do to endure upset and hold our thoughts safely within the bounds of compassion, it is all really about making the mind spiritually acceptable in its patterns. That certainly has its importance, but it is ultimately a path of frustration. The mind that emerges from the ego-self is never tamed, it is always selfish and me-focused, always quick to anger in order to reassert itself as the center of importance.

If we truly learn to let go of all of our pretense and self-importance, however, the instinct to get upset at everything, including what is malicious, falls away. And then there is no need to work so hard at enduring offense or somehow squeezing compassion from a constricted heart. Endurance becomes natural patience with the world. And compassion is simply recognized as inherent within the universe and not the result of our own heavy effort.

To be mature in Zen is to be mature in expression

When we have truly matured in our awakening, when we have allowed the endless tensions that comprise the ego-self to fall away, along with its tendencies toward offense, then our expression becomes natural, fluid, without effort.

And full-moon brilliance of dhyana and prajna
Does not stagnate in emptiness.

Dhyana is meditation, and prajna can be translated as clarity. When we become mature in our practice and realization, we are flooded with a brilliant light that is often compared with the full moon.

When our practice is too much about effort and harsh control, there is the tendency to stagnate, to get caught up in our patterns of policing everything about our thoughts and actions. A certain amount of that approach is an important discipline, but we can’t make the mistake of becoming totalitarian toward our own psychic energies. The goal is not greater or more perfect effort but, instead, to become effortless, to drop the self-important, self-focused self and, with supreme humility, settle into our true nature — from which our inherent compassion and goodness naturally flow.

Not only can I take hold of complete enlightenment by myself,
But all Buddha-bodies, like sands of the Ganges,
Can become awakened in exactly the same way.

So you see, those people who irritate us, who offend us, even those who attack us, they should be among our most cherished teachers. They poke holes in the ego. They deflate our pretenses. They passionately remind us that we are not the psychic facades with which we wrap ourselves. They test us with an intensity missing from other teachers. They show us the pathway to selflessness and, thus, are highly charged agents of enlightenment.

(Caveat: I don’t want to suggest that one should passively accept cruelty or violence or remain in the presence people caught up in toxic patterns. The point here is to recognize what in ourselves we are defending. Personal safety and basic self-value are important and should be protected. But when it is our own self-importance that feels threatened, perhaps it is an opportunity to laugh at ourselves instead.)

Praise to those who irritate us! (Grumble.)

Recommended Books: Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Buddhism and Zen

Hsuan Chueh of Yung Chia / Yoka Genkaku

China (665 – 713) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Nov 08 2019

Mary Oliver – Yes! No!

Published by under Poetry

Yes! No!
by Mary Oliver

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

— from White Pine: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver

/ Image by Thomas Mueller /

There is so much I like about this poem.

I’m not so certain myself how necessary it is to have opinions. Perhaps Mary Oliver’s opinions and her Yesses and Noes are really about being present with intentionality, making a choice to be there. I think she is saying something about entering the world with awareness.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No!

And that’s what I really like about the poem, the sense that the supreme act of a conscious being is to be aware, and to be here, alive and quiet in the undefined moment.


swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond.

The “nameless pond.” To that, I definitely say, Yes! That single phrase nails me to the spot each time I read it. The thinking mind reflexively wants to name everything it sees, and in naming it, claiming it, defining it. Labeling a thing or place, we then think we have seen it, and so ignore it in order to move on to the next thing to be named. Naming is a way of protecting ourselves from direct encounter.

What is it like to encounter a pond with no name? Not even called “pond”? A landscape without labels is wide open, mysterious, and magical. The swan glides through that world every day and needs no names to make it real. In some sense, naming the pond diminishes it, even for the swan, since it has then been claimed as human territory. This is why we need those wild places, unnamed spaces, where the swan can float and the thrush can dance in the unfenced mystery. Where we, wild seekers, can wander in wordless witness.

To live within the undefined moment, within an unnamed landscape, requires a powerful will, choosing to resist the socially trained reflex to label and categorize everything and, thus, not really encounter any of it. To simply be requires one to be a rebel. Rather than going along unconsciously with what we have been taught, we must say either Yes! or No! so we can then actually experience this mysterious life revealing itself to us in every moment.

To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

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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Nov 01 2019

Dionysius the Areopagite – Lead us up beyond light

Published by under Poetry

Lead us up beyond light
by Dionysius the Areopagite

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Lead us up beyond light,
beyond knowing and unknowing,
to the topmost summit of truth,

where the mysteries lie hidden,
unchanging and absolute,
in the dazzling darkness
of the secret silence.
All light is outshined
by the intensity of their shade.

The senses are flooded, the mind made blind
by such unseen beauty
beyond all beauty.

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

/ Image by Sudhamshu /

You may not be familiar with them, but these lines are hugely important in the history of Western mysticism and spirituality. Virtually all European esoteric traditions have drawn inspiration and meaning from them. So take a moment to reread them and consider what is being said and why Western mystics have been inspired by them through the centuries.

In particular, that phrase about the “dazzling darkness,” like a Christian koan, is contemplated endlessly and keeps reappearing in esoteric writings.

Dionysius is saying something about knowledge and the limitations of knowledge, using the metaphor of light and darkness.

Lead us up beyond light,
beyond knowing and unknowing,
to the topmost summit of truth…

We might say that intellectual knowledge is knowledge dependent on things being visible, in the light. But clearly Dionysius feels that such knowledge does not attain the “topmost summit of truth.”

There is another level of knowing, deeper, more obscure, yet all-encompassing. This is the knowledge sought by the mystic. This is the knowledge found within deep inner silence. This is the knowledge that connects us with genuine truth. Amidst this darkness, the truth shines.

…where the mysteries lie hidden,
unchanging and absolute,
in the dazzling darkness
of the secret silence.

But this language of darkness and blindness and unknowing as descriptions of this ultimate knowledge is more than evocative metaphor and playful contradiction.

That wonderful phrase, the “dazzling darkness,” is a reference to a very real state of awareness experienced in deep communion when the mind has settled completely into stillness and no longer projects a conceptual overlay upon reality.

We can even say that seeing in the normal sense stops, while perception opens as if for the first time. A person is no longer seen as a person, a table is no longer seen as a table. Surfaces and categories — the foundation of mundane perception — become ephemeral, dreamlike, insubstantial. One stops witnessing the surface level of reality in the common sense, and this can be compared to blindness or darkness. Yet everything shines! Everything is seen to be radiant with a living interpenetrating light. And the same light shines in everything.

This is the dazzling darkness of Dionysius. This is why many mystics assert they no longer even see the world and, instead, only see God. It is not that they bump into furniture when they walk across a room; perception on the mundane level doesn’t stop (except in the most ecstatic states), but surfaces take on a thin or unreal quality; it only occupies a minimal level of the awareness. It is as if the world everyone always assumes to be the real world, the visible world, is actually a world of shadow, but underlying that is an unseen world of brilliance and indescribably beauty.

Our senses are flooded, our minds blinded
by such unseen beauty
beyond all beauty.

This is the dazzling darkness sought by mystics throughout the ages.


Speaking of darkness, it is the time of Halloween, Samhain in Celtic tradition, el Dia de los Muertos.

As a child, Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays. I loved the masks and costumes, toying with my identity, hiding behind what is seen. I loved the time of year, the chill breeze and thick sweaters, bare branches with a few bright leaves, the blue daylight illuminating it all. And, I have to admit, I loved the giddy, creeping sense of death… and the implied question of what lay beyond. Spirits, magic, monsters, and nighttime, they evoked in me a childish delight in the sense that there was something more to the world, something hidden, secret, another reality in the shadows. I felt the holiday tugging at me, my goosebumps an invitation into the unknown…

This is considered to be a time of year when the veil between this world and the Otherworld thins, when we can reconnect with the spirits of our ancestors, when can gain unexpected insight. It is a time of magic and reconnection and stepping into the unknown.

This is the time of year (in the northern hemisphere) when the light of summer and the harvest season recedes, the days grow shorter, and the darkness of winter takes ascendance. This is the good darkness that balances the year. With darker, shorter, colder days, we are less active and turn inward. It is a time that reminds us to return to the dark cave of home and self. It is in this internal, inturning time that we gain insight and strength and, through endurance, find ourselves renewed and ready for the new light to come in springtime. This darkness is the time of spiritual practice that prepares us for the renewed light and life of springtime. For only in darkness does new life gestate. Only in darkness do our eyes learn to see.

So let’s celebrate those who came before us and made a way for us in the world. Let’s celebrate the infinitely unknown possibilities yet available to us. And let’s celebrate the good darkness — and the light and life we discover there!

Recommended Books: Dionysius the Areopagite

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages

Dionysius the Areopagite, Dionysius the Areopagite poetry, Christian poetry Dionysius the Areopagite

Syria (6th Century) Timeline

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Oct 25 2019

Shiwu (Stonehouse) – Outside the door I made but don’t close

Published by under Poetry

Outside the door I made but don’t close
by Shiwu (Stonehouse)

English version by Red Pine

Outside the door I made but don’t close
I glimpse the movements of unfamiliar birds
a handful of jade is worth a whole mountain
but gold can’t buy a lifetime of freedom
the sound of icy falls on a dawnlit snowy ridge
the sight of distant peaks through leafless autumn woods
mist lifts from ancient cedars and days last forever
right and wrong don’t get past the clouds

— from The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit, Translated by Red Pine

/ Image by Michael Levine-Clark /

This poem feels to me like a Chinese brush painting, specific details observed suggesting a panoramic landscape, yet when we try to enter the scene it becomes ephemeral and slightly elusive.

Outside the door I made but don’t close
I glimpse the movements of unfamiliar birds

That opening line about a door the poet made but does not close, I skimmed past it the first few times I read this poem, but now it grabs my attention. I love the idea of having gone to all the effort of constructing a door and then never using it because you always want it open so you can see and hear the outside world, so no barrier is created between inside and outside.

a handful of jade is worth a whole mountain
but gold can’t buy a lifetime of freedom

Two lines to contemplate and dismiss the dilemmas of wealth. People tend to commodify all of existence, placing a price tag on every experience and thing and even other people. A handful of jade is enough to buy an entire mountain. Who says that’s what a mountain is worth? Or what jade is worth? Exchanging that jade for the pretense of owning that mountain, what do we then have? What has changed for us? Can we breathe easier? Are we more free? The game of money might be worth playing, or not, but it is not the game of freedom.

the sound of icy falls on a dawnlit snowy ridge
the sight of distant peaks through leafless autumn woods

Freedom is found through other mediums of exchange, usually involving stillness, attention, compassion — and harmony with the living world all around us.

mist lifts from ancient cedars and days last forever
right and wrong don’t get past the clouds

Real freedom carries the flavor of timelessness. The world continues in its rhythms, of course, and the serial unfolding of events does not stop, but the rush of time ceases to drive them. It becomes as if one is simply watching the flow of a gentle creek; movement occurs, but it is a serene unfolding within a larger scene of rest.

When we discover this timeless place, when we find ourselves at peace in the midst of the serene beauty surrounding us, when there is no sense of “I and mine” driving the moment, where then are “right” and “wrong”? Ideas of this and not that cannot approach the open field of what is.

Let’s try to leave those doors we’ve made ajar today. Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: Shiwu (Stonehouse)

The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit

Shiwu (Stonehouse)

China (1272 – 1352) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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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 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 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 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
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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

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

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

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