Thursday, September 30, 2010

to exist clearly


.
.
Last evening a city man
Was talking in the hotel door
To everyone, including me.
.
He talked of justice, of the struggle to obtain
Justice, of the workers
Suffering: of unending work
Of hungry men, of rich men turning
Their backs to it all.
.
Then, looking at me, he saw me with tears
In my eyes.  He smiled, happy,
Thinking I felt the same hatred he felt
And the compassion
He claimed to feel.
.
(But I was hardly listening to him.
What do I care about people
And what they suffer, or suppose they suffer?
Let them be like me - they will not suffer.
All the ill in the world comes from people interfering
With one another:
Wanting to do good, wanting to do evil.
Our soul, heaven and earth, these are enough:
To want more is to lose these and be wretched.)
.
What I was thinking when this friend of man
Spoke (and this moved me to weep)
Was that the far murmur of cowbells
In the evening air
Was nothing like small chapel bells
Where flowers and brooks might have heard Mass
Along with simple souls
Simple as mine.
.
(Praise be to God I am not good and have
The natural selfishness of flowers
And rivers, going on their way
Concerned only, and not knowing it,
To flower and go.
This is the only mission in the world:
This - to exist clearly
And to know how
Without thinking about it.)
.
The man fell silent,
He viewed the setting sun.
But what have sunsets to do
With haters and lovers?
.
~ Thomas Merton
from the Portuguese of Fernando Pessoa
#8, of twelve poems from The Keeper of Flocks
.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the emergence of life within life


.
.
You who sleep in my breast are not met with words, 
but in the emergence of life within life 
and of wisdom within wisdom.   
With You there is no longer any dialogue, 
any contest, any opposition.  
You are found in communion! 
Thou in me and I in Thee,  
Thou in them and they in me: 
dispossession within dispossession, 
dispassion within dispassion, 
emptiness within emptiness, 
freedom within freedom. 
 I am alone.  
Thou are alone. 
 The Father and I are One.
.
~ Thomas Merton
from Dialogues with Silence
sketch by the author
.

.
Your brightness is my darkness.  
I know nothing of You and, by myself, 
I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. 
 If I imagine You, I am mistaken.  
If I understand You, I am deluded.  
If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy.
The darkness is enough.
.
prayer written by Merton in 1941 
before midnight mass at Christmas 
.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

life partakes of the freshness


.
.
Our zest for the river did not wane...
We went on in much the same way, in surroundings which had become familiar, 
with not even a flood to make the year memorable.
.  
Ruts, however, are worn only in traveled ways on land: 
a river life partakes of the freshness of the river itself.  
.
Each rise and fall affords a new outlook 
and gives to a well-known shore the feel of one 
at which you have just landed for the first time...
.
~ Harlan Hubbard
from Shantyboat Journal
edited by Don Wallis
.

to breathe nothing but silence


.
.
Minds which are separated pretend to blend in one another's language.
The marriage of souls in concepts is mostly an illusion.
.
Thoughts which travel outward bring back reports from You from outward things, but a dialogue with You, uttered through the world, always ends by being a dialogue with my own reflection in the stream of time.  With You there is no dialogue, unless You choose a mountain, circle it with cloud and print Your words in fire upon the mind of Moses.
.
What was delivered to Moses on tablets of stone, as the fruit of lighting and thunder, 
is now more thoroughly born in our souls 
as quietly as the breath of our own being.
.
from Dialogues with Silence
.

.
To deliver oneself up, to hand oneself over, entrust oneself completely to the silence of a wide landscape of woods and hills, or sea, or desert; to sit still while the sun comes up over the land and fills its silences with light.  To pray and work in the morning and to labor in meditation in the evening when night falls upon that land and when the silence fills itself with darkness and with stars.  This is a true and special vocation.  There are few who are willing to belong completely to such silence, to let it soak into their bones, to breathe nothing but silence, to feed on silence, and to turn the very substance of their life into a living and vigilant silence.
.
Thomas Merton
from Thoughts in Solitude
sketch by the author
.



the current



.
For a long time some of us
lie in the marshes like dark coats
forgetting that we are water
.
dust gathers all day on our closed lids
weeds grow up through us
.
but the eels keep trying to tell us 
writing over and over in our mud
our heavenly names
.
and through us a thin cold current
never sleeps
.
its glassy feet move on until they find stones
.
then cloud fish call to it again
your heart is safe with us
.
bright fish flock to it again touch it
with their mouths say yes
have vanished
.
yes and black flukes wave to it
from the Lethe of whales
.
~ W.S. Merwin
from Migration, The Carrier of Ladders 1970
.

.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hesitation: An Assay


.
.
Sometimes only a slowing
so momentary it can scarcely be seen -
as if a dog
chasing something large and swift and important,
were distracted by the white tremor of an overhead moth.
.
Other times a full lifetime tentative, lost.
.
The line of the roof in a child's crayoned drawing
can show a hesitation almost fatal.
The rain
comes to it hard or less hard,
knowing nothing of hesitations's rake-toothed debate
.
And the two lovers
now concealed around the corner?
They fool no one, not even themselves,
pausing in their own shadows outside a locked door.
.
If pleasure requires prolonging, then these lovers.
.
Yet slowness alone is not to be confused
with the scent of the plum tree just before it opens.
.
~ Jane Hirshfield
from After


.

our own limits transgressed





We need the tonic of wildness, 
to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow hen lurk, 
and hear the booming of the snipe; 
to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder 
and more solitary fowl builds her nest, 
and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.  

At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, 
we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, 
that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed 
by us because it is unfathomable. 

We can never have enough of nature.  
We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, 
vast and titanic features, the seacoast with its wrecks, 
the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, 
the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets.

We need to witness our own limits transgressed, 
and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
  


~ Thoreau
from Walden, "Spring," 1854
photo above by Kathleen Connally
.




Sunday, September 26, 2010

silence shall be my answer


.
.
All things change and die and disappear.
Questions arrive, assume their actuality, and disappear.
In this hour I shall cease to ask them 
and silence shall be my answer.
The world that Your love created,
that the heat has distorted,
that my mind is always misinterpreting,
shall cease to interfere with our voices.
.
~ Thomas Merton
from Dialogues with Silence
.
The true contemplative is not one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but is one who remains empty because he knows that he can never expect to anticipate the words that will transform his darkness into light.  He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation.  He does not demand light instead of darkness.  He waits on the Word of God in silence, and, when he is "answered," it is not so much by a word that bursts into his silence.  It is by his silence itself, suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God.
.
from The Climate of Monastic Prayer
(one of last books he prepared for publication)
sketch by the author

.

True freedom




.
.
True freedom and the end of suffering is living in such
a way as if you had completely chosen whatever
you feel or experience at this moment.
This inner alignment with Now is the end of suffering.
Is suffering really necessary? Yes and no.
If you had not suffered as you have, 
there would be no depth to you as a human being, 
no humility, no compassion.
You would not be reading this now. 
Suffering cracks open the shell of ego, 
and then comes a point when it has served its purpose.
Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary.
.
~ Eckhart Tolle
.

Friday, September 24, 2010

I am fishing with the one who made the river


.
.
When I go out on the water at night, and as I bait hooks, watch Cassiopeia, rising in the eastern sky, draw up her fishingline, Perseus with the misty Pleiads as bait and bright Venus caught, and then all grow dim in the faint beginning light of dawn, then I feel that I am fishing with the one who made the river and set her flowing.  I feel its length and sinuous flowing, fed by swift streams in the wooded eastern mountains; and somewhere, through a country unknown to me except by hearsay, past the mouths of new rivers and towns known only by name, it will at last enter an ocean and lose its identity, as I will too, at the end of my devious flowing.
.
~ Harlan Hubbard
from Shantyboat Journal
edited by Don Wallis

dog still barking at midnight


.
.
It has come to this:
three ants, seemingly separate, seemingly aimless,
wandering on a shelf.
.
They've appeared and disappeared for days between jars and bottles.
Luckless, they move without pausing.
.
A single breath-puff could send any one to the floor.
How distant they must be from the nest -
yet none consults with another,
none turns to the others for reassurance or warmth.
.
In their cold bodies: calcium, carbons, a trace of nickel.
.
Inexhaustible solitude, how did you come so far
to waver on the slim antennae of these my sisters?
.
~ Jane Hirshfield
.

the promise


.
.
Mysteriously they entered, those few minutes.
Mysteriously, they left.
As if the great dog of confusion guarding my heart,
who is always sleepless, suddenly slept.
It was not any awakening of the large, not so much as that,
only a stepping back from the petty.
I gazed at the range of blue mountains,
I drank from the stream.  Tossed in a small stone from the bank.
Whatever direction the fates of my life might travel, I trusted.
Even the greedy direction, even the grieving, trusted.
There was nothing left to be saved from, bliss nor danger.
The dogs tail wagged a little in his dream.
.
~ Jane Hirshfield
from After
photo by shreve stockton
.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

That Time of Year thou mayst in me Behold





.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day 
As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away, 
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest. 
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire 
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, 
As the death-bed whereon it must expire, 
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by. 
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong, 
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
.
~ William Shakespeare
sonnet LXXIII

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

woman in red coat





.
Some questions cannot be answered.
They become familiar weights in the hand,
round stones pulled from the pocket,
unyielding and cool.
Your fingers travel their surfaces,
lose themselves finally
in the braille of the durable world.
Look out of any window, it's the same --
the yellow leaves, the wintering light.
A truck passes, piled deep in cut wood.
A woman, in a red wool coat,
sees you watching and quickly looks away.
.
~ Jane Hirshfield 
from Of Gravity and Angels
.


Let life happen





.
For one human being to love another; 
that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, 
the ultimate, the last test and proof, 
the work for which all other work is but preparation. 
.
I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: 
that each protects the solitude of the other. 
This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: 
the more they give, the more they possess.
.
There are no classes in life for beginners; 
right away you are always asked to deal with what is most difficult.
.
Believe that with your feelings and your work you are taking part in the greatest; 
the more strongly you cultivate this belief, 
the more will reality and the world go forth from it. 
If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; 
blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; 
for the Creator, there is no poverty.
.
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting 
to see us once beautiful and brave. 
Perhaps everything terrible 
is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. 
The deepest experience of the creator is feminine, 
for it is experience of receiving and bearing.
.
The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens. 
Let life happen to you. 
Believe me: life is in the right, always.
.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
.


just now



.
In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks
.
~ W.S. Merwin
from The Pupil
.
.

being separated




.
.
Listen to the story told by the reed, 
of being separated. 
.
"Since I was cut from the reedbed, 
I have made this crying sound. 
.
Anyone apart from someone he loves 
understands what I say. 
.
Anyone pulled from a source 
longs to go back. 
.
At any gathering I am there, 
mingling in the laughing and grieving, 
.
a friend to each, but few 
will hear the secrets hidden 
.
within the notes. No ears for that. 
Body flowing out of spirit, 
.
spirit up from body: no concealing 
that mixing. But it's not given us 
.
to see the soul. The reed flute 
is fire, not wind. Be that empty." 
.
Hear the love fire tangled 
in the reed notes, as bewilderment 
.
melts into wine. The reed is a friend 
to all who want the fabric torn 
.
and drawn away. The reed is hurt 
and salve combining. Intimacy 
.
and longing for intimacy, one 
song. A disastrous surrender 
.
and a fine love, together. The one 
who secretly hears this is senseless. 
.
A tongue has one customer, the ear. 
A sugarcane flute has such effect 
.
because it was able to make sugar 
in the reedbed. The sound it makes 
.
is for everyone. Days full of wanting, 
let them go by without worrying 
.
that they do. Stay where you are 
inside such a pure, hollow note. 
.
Every thirst gets satisfied except 
that of these fish, the mystics, 
.
who swim a vast ocean of grace 
still somehow longing for it! 
.
No one lives in that without 
being nourished every day. 
.
But if someone doesn't want to hear 
the song of the reed flute
.
it's best to cut conversation 
short, say good-bye, and leave.
.
~ Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks
from The essential Rumi

.

a strange thing is loneliness




.
.
What a strange thing is loneliness, and how frightening it is! We never allow ourselves to get too close to it; and if by chance we do, we quickly run away from it. We will do anything to escape from loneliness, to cover it up. Our conscious and unconscious preoccupation seems to be to avoid it or to overcome it. Avoiding and overcoming loneliness are equally futile; though suppressed or neglected, the pain, the problem, is still there. You may lose yourself in a crowd, and yet be utterly lonely; you may be intensely active, but loneliness silently creeps upon you; put the book down, and it is there. Amusements and drinks cannot drown loneliness; you may temporarily evade it, but when the laughter and the effects of alcohol are over, the fear of loneliness returns. You may be ambitious and successful, you may have vast power over others, you may be rich in knowledge, you may worship and forget yourself in the rigmarole of rituals; but do what you will, the ache of loneliness continues. You may exist only for your son, for the Master, for the expression of your talent; but like the darkness, loneliness covers you. You may love or hate, escape from it according to your temperament and psychological demands; but loneliness is there, waiting and watching, withdrawing only to approach again.
.
J. Krishnamurti
from his Commentaries on Living Series I
.

to waiting


.
.
You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone 
who will be different 
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be 
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you
.
meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself
.
with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long
.
W.S. Merwin
from Present Company
art by Picasso
.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

to the happy few


.
.
Do you know who you are
.
O you forever listed
under some other heading
when you are listed at all
.
You whose addresses
when you have them 
are never sold except
for another reason
something else that is
supposed to identify you
.
who carry no card
stating that you are -
what would it say you were
to someone turning it over
looking perhaps for
a date or for
anything to go by
.
you with no secret handshake
no proof of membership
no way to prove such a thing
even to yourselves
.
you without a word
of explanation
and only yourselves
as evidence
.
~ W.S. Merwin
from Present Company
photo by edmund teske
.

dying, the mind is fresh, instant, eager, tremendously alive




.
.
If you are really serious, to find out the implications of death, then you have to come into contact with that fact of death, actually come into contact with it - not theoretically, not as something which you have got to face, therefore let's face it, but rather by coming directly into contact with it, by dying. Dying - I mean by that word, coming to the end of all the things that you have known psychologically, your experiences, your pleasures, to die - every day. Otherwise, you will never know what death is; for it is only in the dying that there is something new, not in continuing the old. Most of us are so weighed down by the known, by the yesterday, by the memories, by the `me', the `self', which is but a bundle of memories accumulated yesterday, having no actual existence in itself. Die to those memories; actually die to a pleasure without any argument. If you know what it means to die to a pleasure, to something that you have taken great pleasure in - without argument, without postponement, without any sense of resentment, bitterness - that is what is going to happen when you do die. And to die every day, to everything that you have gathered psychologically, is to be totally reborn. If you do not die in that way, then you have the continual problem of this memory that you have accumulated as the `me' and the self-centred activity that we indulge in - the thought of `my' house, `my' family, `my' book, `my' fame, `my' loneliness - you know, that little entity that moves around incessantly within itself, with its own limited pattern of existence. Will that continue? - you understand? - that is the problem we have. Either one knows how to die every day, and in dying actually, the mind is fresh, instant, eager, tremendously alive, or, there is this bundle of memories, of self-centred activity, with all its thoughts, searching for fulfilment, wanting to be somebody, imitating, copying. That whole network of thought - will that continue? - yet that is what we want to continue. We say, at the least, if I haven't fulfilled in this life, perhaps I will in the next.
.
J. Krishnamurti 
from Talks in Europe 1967
.

Where is he now


.
.
Where is he now, who leaving wealth behind
grew so bold in poverty
that he threw off his clothes before the bishop
and stood naked in the square?
.
The most inward and loving of all,
he came forth like a new beginning,
the brown-robed brother of your nightingales,
with his wonder and goodwill
and delight in Earth...
.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
III,33, The book of Poverty and Death
translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
photo: Thomas Merton
.

serve the culture of the day




The cities only care for what is theirs
and uproot all that's in their path.
They crush the creatures like hollow sticks
and burn up nations like kindling.

Their people serve the culture of the day,
losing all balance and moderation,
calling their aimlessness progress,
driving recklessly where they once drove slow,
and with all that metal and glass
making such a racket.

It's as if they were under a spell:
they can no longer be themselves.
Money keeps growing, takes all their strength,
and empties them like a scouring wind,
while they wait for wine and poisonous passions
to spur them to fruitless occupations.




~ Rainer Maria Rilke
III,31, The Book of Poverty and Death
translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
photo by robert frank

Monday, September 20, 2010

as we truly are





We are not poor. We are just without riches,
we who have no will, no world:
marked with the marks of the latest anxiety,
disfigured, stripped of leaves.

Around us swirls the dust of the cities, 
the garbage clings to us.
We are shunned as if contaminated,
thrown away like broken pots, like bones,
like last years's calendar.

And yet if our Earth needed to
she could weave us together like roses
and make of us a garland.

For each being is cleaner than washed stones
and endlessly yours, and like an animal
who knows already in its first blind moments
its need for one thing only -

to let ourselves be poor like that - as we truly are.



~ Rainer Maria Rilke
III.16, The Book of Poverty and Death
photo by ansel adams

each our own death




God, give us each our own death,
the dying that proceeds
from each of our lives:

the way we loved,
the meanings we made,
our need.

III,6



For we are only the rind and the leaf,

The great death, that each of us carries inside,
is the fruit.

Everything enfolds it.

III,7




~ Rainer Maria Rilke
  The Book of Poverty and Death
translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

Sunday, September 19, 2010

can't see the path or any distance



.
It feels as though I make my way 
through massive rock
like a vain of ore
alone, encased.

I am so deep inside it
I can't see the path or any distance:
everything us close
and everything closing in on me
has turned to stone.

Since I still don't know enough about pain,
this terrible darkness makes me small.
If it's you, though -

press down hard on me, break in
that I may know the weight of your hand,
and you, the fullness of my cry.




Rainer Maria Rilke
The Book of Poverty and Death III,1
translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
(See interview with Joanna Macy)