Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Aug 12 2022

Rumi – Keep knocking

Keep on knocking
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

Keep on knocking
’til the joy inside
opens a window
look to see who’s there

— from The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Image by Daniel Gregoire /

We have made it to the other side of our journey and arrived safely in Eugene, Oregon. It is a homecoming for us, although we have been away for decades. Much is familiar, yet everything is new.

The drive out itself, while beautiful, was a bit of an ordeal. We passed through a heat wave affecting Utah and Idaho before entering the cooler weather of Oregon.

Eugene itself is lovely. The Willamette River running through town, trees and deep greens, blackberry bushes at the edges of alleyways just beginning to bear fruit. Walks along the river in the morning chill is a special treat. The downtown area is vibrant, more active than we remember in the early 90s. Trying to reorient to the idiosyncratic city layout, one way streets, unexpected loops and turns.

When we explore a town, the places we check out first to connect with the community: the natural food stores, the bookstores, coffee shops (though I rarely drink coffee), neighborhood parks. We’re making the rounds.

The ocean, just an hour-and-a-half’s drive away, calls to my wife. An afternoon trip coming up soon.

Boxes are everywhere. All the books arrived, though we did not bring all our old bookshelves, so just where will everything go? Which books make the cut for display on bookshelves and which get tucked away into closets?

Keep on knocking
’til the joy inside
opens a window
look to see who’s there

I want to say thank you to all of you, the entire Poetry Chaikhana community, for all of your thoughts and supportive messages through this move. My heart has been full through the miles traveled. Love to you all in return.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

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


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

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

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Jul 15 2022

Darshan Singh – How did I ever think silence the language of love?

Published by under Poetry

How did I ever think silence the language of love?
by Darshan Singh

English version by Barry Lerner and Harbans Singh Bedi

How did I ever think silence the language of love?
What I thought would not come to light was in plain sight.

I hear my silence talked of in every lane;
The suppression of a cry is itself a cry of pain.

The beloved’s regard was but a flash of light;
How innocent to think I’d found eternal bliss.

These, too, in the end were the gardener’s: the lightning and the wind
And that handful of pitiful straws I’d called my nest.

Darshan, the glances I’d fancied voiced my love —
Even they couldn’t convey the unplumbed depths of my longing.

— from Love’s Last Madness: Poems on a Spiritual Path by Darshan Singh, Translated by Barry Lerner / Translated by Harbans Singh Bedi


/ Image by Daniele Levis Pelusi /

Let’s spend a little time with this poem…

This poem is a lovely way to address some of the initial encounters of mystical union.

The opening couplets explore interweaving themes of silence and awareness of the Divine. Esoteric traditions all over the world use inner silence, profound psychic stillness, as a way to open up to the vision of the Divine. But here Darshan Singh confronts the limitation of the practice–

How did I ever think silence the language of love?
What I thought would not come to light was in plain sight.

As we explore deeply, we discover layers to silence. Superficial silence is effortful. It is a striving for something not seen. It is, in effect, a rejection of the common perception of the common world.

Yet Darshan Singh shares with us his deeper realization, that the Divine speaks to us in the language of love, and that language is whispered everywhere, in all things. He seems to be urging us not to cultivate a holiness born of rejection, but one born of profound recognition of the Divine already here, already everywhere, in plain sight.

Further, in silence is discovered a quiet, all-pervading sound. So, even in silence, that silence is filled with a song, the language of love.

I hear my silence talked of in every lane;
The suppression of a cry is itself a cry of pain.

First, I love the humorous play of words with these lines: He ‘hears’ his silence, and it is talked about everywhere. His silence has sound, and the acclamation of his attainment of his silence makes his silence noisier.

And that second line says so much. Merely holding thoughts back can open a few doors, but it ultimately becomes a practice of suppression. Suppression cannot be the ultimate fulfillment, for it too is “a cry of pain.”

Where then does that leave us? How is silence and clear vision attained without suppression of thought? Think of it this way: Learning to hold thoughts allows us to finally understand deep silence. When that is discovered, when we learn to rest in that truer silence, surface thoughts are of less consequence.

We find a similar idea expressed in some Buddhist teachings and poetry that pose the question, of what consequence are clouds to the unchanging blue sky?

The beloved’s regard was but a flash of light;
How innocent to think I’d found eternal bliss.

That first ecstatic flood of light in mystic experience is life changing. Joy indescribable. Wholeness. Unity. Supreme contentment. Many mystics have trouble admitting that they have not (yet) attained the Ultimate. Too many mystics reach this level, and thinking they have found eternal bliss, rush to put out their guru shingle — only to find the experience slipping through their grasp. Like lightning, it fills the world with light, and then returns into itself.

And that’s the issue: It is an experience of enlightenment, but it is not yet capital-E Enlightenment. Any ‘experience’ is something that happens to you; it has a beginning, but it also has an end. True Enlightenment, on the other hand, must be stable, lasting. Full Enlightenment is not really an experience or an event, it is a recognition.

We don’t want to imagine ourselves satisfied by those first “glances,” as fulfilling and transformative as they may be. At this stage we want to find within ourselves “the unplumbed depths of longing” that will lead us through the adept’s initial plateau into the wide open vista of true Awakening.

Darshan, the glances I’d fancied voiced my love —
Even they couldn’t convey the unplumbed depths of my longing.


Recommended Books: Darshan Singh

Love’s Last Madness: Poems on a Spiritual Path by Darshan Singh


Darshan Singh, Darshan Singh poetry, Sikh poetry Darshan Singh

India (1921 – 1989) Timeline
Sikh

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Jul 08 2022

Shiwu (Stonehouse) – Trying to become a Buddha is easy

Published by under Poetry

Trying to become a Buddha is easy
by Shiwu (Stonehouse)

English version by Red Pine

Trying to become a Buddha is easy
but ending delusions is hard
how many moonlit nights
have I sat and felt the cold before dawn

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


/ Image by Dingzeyu Li /

Trying to become a Buddha is easy
but ending delusions is hard

Shiwu’s opening lines remind me of the first lines of a poem by the Indian poet Lalla:

Learning the scriptures is easy;
but living them, that’s hard.

I think both are saying something similar.

We might reword Shiwu’s lines as, “Trying to become a Buddha is easy, but becoming a Buddha is hard.” The difference in the two phrases is in the trying, the effort. Trying is the easy part. Taking on a practice, following a prescribed pathway, joining a sangha, observing the correct rituals or, as Lalla, says, learning the scriptures, those are simply the forms of spirituality. There may be intense effort, but that effort can just as easily be used by the ego to reinforce its self-identity as a “spiritual” person or to be praised by others for our spiritual “progress.”

The real dilemma is how to go beyond merely following the forms and, instead, to actually use our practices as alchemy to transform and liberate. How do we stop trying to become Buddhas and, instead, actually step free from our delusions?

how many moonlit nights
have I sat and felt the cold before dawn

The poet doesn’t seem to offer us answers… well, perhaps the hint of an answer.

Shiwu gives us the image of meditating through the night and feeling cold by the morning. On one level, that can be read as disappointment with the progress of his meditation. Hoping to be above such things, he finds he is keenly aware of his body and senses in the chilly morning.

But we can read these lines in a slightly different way, as well. A moonlit night is often used in Asian poetry to suggest the gentle illumination perceived by the meditator’s quiet mind. Sitting through many such nights only to notice the cold of the morning suggests that the enlightenment has always been there yet somehow missed or not fully realized. But then we have the dawn. This can be read as illumination in its brilliant, undeniable, all-encompassing form. Enlightenment has been found, but after the effort has ceased.

He stopped trying to become the Buddha and the dawn simply washed away his delusions.


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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Jul 01 2022

Jacopone da Todi – As air carries light

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

English version by Ivan M. Granger

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

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

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

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


/ Image by Dulcey Lima /

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

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

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

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

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

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

The soul is willing and yet unwilling…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

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


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

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Jun 17 2022

Mahmud Shabistari – The Beloved Guest

The Beloved Guest
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Florence Lederer

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

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


/ Image by Aziz Acharki /

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Mahmud Shabistari

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


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

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

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Jun 03 2022

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

Published by under Poetry

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

English version by Vraje Abramian

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

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


/ Image by Omer Salom /

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

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

Though burning has become an old habit for this heart…

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

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

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

This is the heart in fiery communion.

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

But, he immediately follows with:

I dare not think of Your company.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

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


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 13 2022

A. R. Ammons – Still

Published by under Poetry

Still
by A. R. Ammons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— from Selected Poems, by A. R. Ammons


/ Image by Scott Webb /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can find nothing
to give myself to:
everything is

magnificent with existence…

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

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

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

Another line break to contemplate:

nestling in I
found

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

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

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

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

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

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: A. R. Ammons

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


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

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by A. R. Ammons

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Apr 22 2022

Walt Whitman – It is time to explain myself

Published by under Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— from Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman


/ Image by Nandhu Kumar /

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitman invites us to call out with him:

Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.


Recommended Books: Walt Whitman

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


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

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

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Apr 08 2022

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

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

English version by Bernard Lewis

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

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


/ Image by Jessica.Tam /

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

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

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

==

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Hafiz

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


Hafiz

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

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

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Mar 18 2022

Thich Nhat Hanh – Full Moon Festival

Published by under Poetry

Full Moon Festival
by Thich Nhat Hanh

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

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

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


/ Image by Erik McIean /

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Thich Nhat Hanh

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


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

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

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Mar 11 2022

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

Published by under Poetry

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

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

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

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


/ Image by Jeff King /

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

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

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

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

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

I especially love the closing couplet:

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

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


Recommended Books: William Stafford

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


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

US (1914 – 1993) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Mar 11 2022

Ivan’s poetry in Nameless

I am honored to have been included in the new poetry anthology nameless: a riff of 44 images complemented by poetry, by Rashani Réa & Six Contemporary Poets. This is a delightful collection collage art by Rashani Réa, accompanied by haiku and short poems by six poets, yours truly included. One of mine from the book:

chance meeting
were we ever apart
my many selves and i?

A lovely book to sit down with and read at any page.

You can support Rashani Réa’s work by purchasing a copy through Amazon:
click here.

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Feb 18 2022

Mansur al-Hallaj – Your spirit is mingled with mine

Published by under Poetry

Your spirit is mingled with mine
by Mansur al-Hallaj

English version by Bernard Lewis

Your spirit is mingled with mine
as wine is mixed with water;
whatever touches you touches me.
In all the stations of the soul you are I.

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


/ Image by Pawel Czerwinski /

In the past couple of weeks I have been reorganizing my small office space and cleaning up a lot of stored papers. In particular, I have been going through all of the mail I’ve received from the Poetry Chaikhana community over the years, quite literally hundreds of short notes, long letters, greeting cards.

I have to let you all know how profoundly moved I am by all of your messages of love and support over the past nearly twenty years, letting me know how much the Poetry Chaikhana means to you, has helped your through difficult times, has deepened your spiritual practice in some way, and has inspired you in your own creative expression. In many cases I have sent replies, but the sheer volume of correspondence has made my responses less frequent. But I read every message sent to me, and I always send an energetic response, even when I don’t send a written one. Today I am feeling especially humbled and grateful for the small mountain of letters and cards I’ve received from you all over the years.

Sending love to you all in return.

Now, for today’s poem…

The great Sufi mystic poet, Hallaj, was persecuted and eventually put to death by orthodox religious authorities for poems like this, in which he seems to be equating himself with God.

This is the danger faced by most mystics. The sacred experience is one of ecstatic union with the Divine. Where do “you” cease to be, and where does the Divine begin? In mystical union, these questions are artificial since the Divine is everywhere and no tangible sense of you as a separate individual remains. There aren’t two in which to have a relationship; there is only the One.

Particularly notice the image of wine mixing with water. This sounds like a passing metaphor, but it actually resonates with layers of esoteric meaning.

“Wine” here is not wine; it is the drink of divine union. It is the “water” of the purified soul, awakened and flavored with the fermenting fire of life. This is the celestial drink of initiates: the amrita of the yogis, the ambrosia of the Greeks, even the tea of our own poetry teahouse…

water = the purified individual soul
wine = the sweet, blissful flood of the Divine

When wine is poured into water, water takes on the nature of wine, until no difference can be perceived. This is how he comes to that final line of realization:

In all the stations of the soul you are I.

When the divine wine pours into the clear water of the soul, everything is turned to wine. God and self become indistinguishable. Rather, self is lost and only God remains.

As a result, mystics keep producing ecstatic and dangerous poems like this one, and orthodox authorities keep trying to silence or marginalize them.


Recommended Books: Mansur al- Hallaj

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology
More Books >>


Mansur al- Hallaj

Iran/Persia (9th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 28 2022

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 /

This past week the great soul – spiritual teacher, peace activist, embodiment of compassion – Thich Nhat Hanh passed away at the age of 95.

Thich Nhat Hanh has been such an important international figure of spirituality, integrity, and compassion, all combined with peace activism, that his passing will be felt by so many across the globe.

Perhaps more than any other, this is the poem I think of first when I think of Thich Nhat Hanh, so I thought I would share it again 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 itself, 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 (1926 – 2022) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Thich Nhat Hanh

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Jan 21 2022

Thomas Merton – O Sweet Irrational Worship

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

O Sweet Irrational Worship
by Thomas Merton

Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,

Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.

I am earth, earth

All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!

I am earth, earth

My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth

Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.

— from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Image by Begbie Images /

Well, I seem to be mostly recovered from the Covid I picked up a couple of weeks ago. It’s been no fun, certainly, a miserable sort of flu, but not the sort of thing to bring society to a halt. I know that different people have different reactions, that the vaccine can lessen symptoms, and that vulnerable individuals can end up in the hospital, but, having come through, I find myself asking if it is truly worth all of the fear and blame and isolation that has gripped society.

I shake my head and step outside where life continues. I listen to the wind. I wait for the winter clouds to part to feel the afternoon sun on my face.

Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.

Bobwhite, if you don’t know what it is, is a quail-like bird with a unique whistle that sounds like bob-WHITE, bob-bob-WHITE. Reading the opening lines to Merton’s poem, I imagine a walk on a slow afternoon, a gentle breeze, the airy space cut by the clear whistle of the bobwhite.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,
Bird and wind.

I can see a few possible reactions to this statement. Some might read the phrase “ceasing to question” as one of religious dogma, suggesting that a certain freedom comes from no longer questioning one’s belief system. Knowing Merton’s spiritually inclusive philosophy, I don’t think that’s what he intended.

Rather than standing outside of the moment, turning the scene into an external landscape for the questioning mind to define and label and remain apart from, we become quiet and present. We merge into the moment. We don’t see a pretty seen awash in light, we become the light itself… and the birdsong and the breeze. We fill the space.

I am earth, earth
All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

The boundaries of identity expand. Who we are is not limited by the body or the stories we tell ourselves. We are everything spread out before us, the earth itself. From the earth’s deep heart, our heart, all things grow and emerge to be bathed in the light of the sun.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

I love the way a bold, solitary tree stands forth to become a signifier of — what? An initial, one’s first name, one’s personal name. But that name itself has become ephemeral, lost in the larger self. With a quiet mind, we have become not only wordless, but nameless. Finding the wider self in the wider reality, we have moved beyond names.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.

However we define worship, reverence, the celebration of life and innate goodness, may we allow ourselves to be swept up in it fully — foolishly.


Recommended Books: Thomas Merton

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton A Thomas Merton Reader The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton Thomas Merton Monk & Poet: A Critical Study


Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Jan 14 2022

Denise Levertov – Looking, Walking, Being

Published by under Poetry

Looking, Walking, Being
by Denise Levertov

“The World is not something to
look at, it is something to be in.”
— Mark Rudman

I look and look.
Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That’s
a way of breathing.

breathing to sustain
looking,
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

— from Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by Amizyolaroid /

Okay, let’s start off with those wonderful lines:

Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.

This poem is a response to the Mark Rudman quote, “The World is not something to / look at, it is something to be in.” Denise Levertov answers that looking IS being.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch…

I suspect that Rudman was discouraging passivity and lack of presence, but Levertov, I think, is getting at something deeper still. Humans, all beings, in fact, are fundamentally beings of awareness. Each individual is a point of perception, a viewpoint in the universe. We are, each of us, “a pair of eyes walking.”

We are present through perception, not action. Yes, action and interaction can be a powerful way to force us to pay attention, but it is also common to use action to shut down the awareness. Whether in movement or in stillness, the real goal is to keep the eyes open and feel fully with the heart and with the gut. We want to do more than look, but to see and see deeply. We need to see what is ignored and glossed over, to “dig and burrow in the world.”

Even in complete stillness, truly seeing is one of the most profound actions we can engage in. People are brought to tears by a gentle gaze in the eyes. This is what the soul craves, to be seen, to be recognized, to be truly acknowledged. This is true not just of the human soul, but of the world soul. I think of this when Denise Levertov writes of how the world “looks at one looking.”

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That’s
a way of breathing.

We forget that language is built of breath. We see the written word and we read it silently. Words become mental concepts, tools of the intellect. But words are not fundamentally discrete units of meaning. They flow and stop and flow again, as the breath does. Words aren’t inherently meaningful; they are the ornaments that accompany the flow of awareness.

Words affect breath. Thoughts affect breath. Breath guides awareness.

…breathing to sustain
looking…

Through the breath, we bring the outside world inside us, inside the body, inside the awareness. The boundary between self and the world is bridged by the breath. Through breath, we touch, we feel, we internalize, we connect, we participate, we come alive. Through breath we move and we see.

…walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

Vision, language, breath… communion.


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

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Dec 17 2021

John of the Cross – The Sum of Perfection

Published by under Poetry

The Sum of Perfection
by John of the Cross

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Creation forgotten,
Creator only known,
Attention turned inward
In love with the Beloved alone.

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


/ Image by bran.deann. /

As we approach Christmas, I wanted to feature something simple and luminous. This is one of my favorite short poems by St. John of the Cross.

Where else is the mystic path stated so succinctly yet so completely? These four lines by St. John of the Cross contain all the instructions necessary.

Creation forgotten…
Attention turned inward

This is is a bit of a jump, but these lines call to my mind Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one of the foundational scriptures of yogic practice, which speaks of pratyahara or ‘sense withdrawal’ as an essential practice. This leads to dharana or ‘concentration,’ which matures into dhyana (meditation) and finally samadhi (divine union). Done deeply, sense withdrawal and concentration are profound practices, but they sound so… effortful, don’t they? Almost severe. ‘Concentration’ reminds me of studying for college exams. Translated into English like this, these words don’t convey quite the right tone. These spiritual practices do not have to be a strain; the attention can simply turn and glide inward. My experience is that this is the natural tendency of the awareness, anyway, we just have to stop pushing it to the exterior all the time. Sense withdrawal and concentration don’t require a harsh act of force so much as trust: trust to release the constant fixation on outer reality, trust that what we discover in the spacious silence within is just as real and delightful.

Half a world away, in Catholic Spain, St. John of the Cross is telling us the same thing. Forget the outer world of phenomena, at least for the moment. Turn inward.

Doing this, creation is seen as having no fundamental reality of its own; it is only an expression or emanation of the Eternal. It is like watching a movie. The movie may seem real while we are caught up in the story, but if we pause and look around the auditorium, we can see that the movie is actually streaming through the darkness in a funnel of light. It’s source is really the projector.

Creator only known.

Remembering this on every level, we are only aware of the Source, the Creator. Creation itself then becomes simply a reflection of the Divine. Knowing only the Creator, the Divine fills all of perception — that is true meditation.

Seeing through the insubstantial nature of mundane reality, one is filled with ecstatic, uncontainable love and bliss. This is not a surface happiness directed at exterior objects or people, but for all of creation and, more fundamentally, for the immense life that brings that creation into existence.

In love with the Beloved alone.

The original Spanish verse has a fluid, chant-like rhythm that’s difficult to reproduce in English translation:

Olvido de lo criado,
memoria del Criador,
atencion a lo interior
y estarse amando al Amado.

(My translation of this poem appears both in my collection of poems and translations, Real Thirst, but is also included in For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, edited by Roger Housden. Roger Housden’s contemplative collections of poetry are always worth reading.)

May we all remember that this time of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Solstice, is for the renewal of the light within ourselves and our world. (It’s no accident that Christmas and Hanukkah occur near the Winter Solstice, when the world is plunged in darkness and awaits the renewal of the light.) 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. Sending love to everyone!


Recommended Books: John of the Cross

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
More Books >>


John of the Cross, John of the Cross poetry, Christian poetry John of the Cross

Spain (1542 – 1591) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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