Monday, October 31, 2011
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
~ Yehudi Amichai
(from: The Selected Poetry of Yehudi Amichai,
translation by Chana Bloch and Stephen Mitchell)
photo by Eliot Porter.
(March 27, 1917 - June 15, 2011)
Let's picture if we can two landscapes. The first has a deep clear quiet pool, and the second also has a deep clear quiet pool. The first one is surrounded by garbage. The second one, also surrounded by garbage, has an odd characteristic - everyone who jumps into the pool takes a little pile of garbage in with him -- and there is something in the pool that eats it up, so it remains quiet and clear.
Which kind of practice are you doing ? Most of us long for deep, blissful sitting and, even if our pool of peace is ringed around with garbage, we attempt not notice it; if the garbage can disturb us, we want to ignore it. We don't like difficulties; we prefer to sit in our peace and not be intruded upon. That's one type of sitting.
The other kind of pool eats up the garbage; as fast as it appears, it is consumed as the person entering the pool carries it in with him. Still in a short time the pool is clear and undisturbed. It may churn more at first. The major difference is that the first pool ends up with more and more garbage around it; the second has none or very little.
As has been said, most of us long for the first kind of practice (life). But the second, facing life as it is, is more genuine; we keep churning up our drama -- seeing it, experiencing it, swallowing it -- throwing the garbage into ourselves, the deep pool that we are.
A practice exclusively devoted to concentration (shutting out all but the object of concentration) is the first pool. Very peaceful, very seductive. But when you climb out of the pool, the garbage of life remains -- our dualistic dealings with our work and relationships. You haven't handled them. Or you may resort to the well-intentioned but inaccurate devices of positive thinking or affirmations; the gas in the garbage increases and in time explodes.
The second pool (being each moment of life, pleasant or unpleasant) is at times a slow and frustrating practice, but in the long run, fruitful and satisfying. With all that as a background, let's look at what can be called the turning point in our life and practice. From what are we turning? Let's look at some sentences: "I feel irritated. I feel annoyed. I feel happy." What we omit is: "I feel I am hurt by you. I feel I have been made happy by you."
Actually, the fact is not that you irritate me, it's that i have a desire to be irritated. You may loudly protest, "oh, never, I certainly don't want to feel irritated or hurt..." Well, just for a few years (intelligently, in the second pool). The first and uncomfortable years of sitting make it clearer and clearer that my desire is to be irritated or angry (separate). That's almost all I have known as a means to preserve and protect what I think is my identity. With continued awareness, it dawns that there is only one person who can irritate me or make me feel lonely and depressed, and it is myself -- myself as a false identity.
We begin to see a strange and lethal truth: contrary to our beliefs, our basic drive and all our life fore goes into a struggle to perpetuate our separateness, our touchiness, or self-righteousness.
Lao Tzu said, "He who feels punctured, must be a balloon.", the balloon of irritability, anger, self-centered opinions. If we can be punctured (hurt), we can be sure we are still a balloon. We want to be a balloon; otherwise we could not be punctured. But our greatest desire is to keep the balloon inflated. After all, it's me!
So what would turning be? What is the turning point? It begins when we observe and feel our anger, our manipulation, our anxiety - and know in our hearts a deep determination to be in another mode.
Than the real transformation can begin. Instead of ignoring garbage, pushing it away, or wallowing in it, we take our garbage into ourselves and let it digest. We take ourselves with us into the pool of life. This begins the turning. After it, life is never the same.
The turning is at first feeble and intermittent. Over time, it becomes stronger and more insistent (in Christian terms, the 'hound of haven' chases us). As it strengthens, more and more we know who our Master is. Of course, the Master is not a thing or a person but our awakening knowledge of Who We Are. The difficult years of practice (and life) come before the turning. The patience and skill of both teacher and student are called on to the utmost. Some but not all will make it through the difficulties.
Gurdjieff said: man is a machine. We know how machines work: when the blender's button is pushed, it goes WHOOSSSH; when we turn our car's ignition key, the motor roars. Man is a machine. Why? As long as a man's primary drive is to keep his balloon unpunctured, to avoid having his buttons pushed, he is an automatic machine which has no choice.
Even moving from passive dependence to an active and angry independence -- "Don't tell me what to do!" -- is still the activity of a machine with buttons. I feel ruled and compelled by 'something else'; I have no choice. Like the blender, if pushed, I turn on.
Suppose you do something to me that I view as punishing (it's mean, it's unfair, I don't deserve it). How do I react when this button is pushed? With anger? (And I may not reveal my anger, or I may turn it against myself). Then I am a machine. In this instance, what would the tuning point be?
The turning point is my ability, developed slowly by practice, to be aware of the thoughts and bodily sensations which comprise anger. In the observing of thoughts and sensations, anger will swallow itself and its energy can open life instead of destroying it. Then I (the angry one) can act out of this clarity in a manner that benefits me and you. This is the way of the second pool, the one that takes the garbage, digests it, letting it feed and renew life as compost does a garden.
Let us not have some naive notion that this ability is won overnight. A lifetime is more like it. Nevertheless, faithful and determined practice makes a difference and fairly soon at that.
We come to view the unpleasant aspects of life as learning opportunities. If my balloon is deflated a little -- great!. As an opportunity to be welcomed, not avoided or dramatized. each round of such practice renders us a little less machine-like, gives us more appreciation of ourselves and others.
Let's live in the second pool.
~ Charlotte Joko Beck
from the Newsletter of the Zen Center of San Diego, (Feb-Mar, 1989)
Friday, October 28, 2011
All my life to pretend this world of theirs is mine
And to know such pretending is disgraceful.
But what can I do? Suppose I suddenly screamed
And started to prophesy. No one would hear me.
Their screens and microphones are not for that.
Others like me wander the streets
And talk to themselves. Sleep on benches in parks,
Or on pavements in alleys. For there aren't enough prisons
To lock up all the poor. I smile and keep quiet.
They won't get me now.
To feast with the chosen—that I do well.
~ Czeslaw Milosz
translated by Robert Hass
photo by Christine de Grancy
When I die, I will see the lining of the world.
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset.
The true meaning, ready to be decoded.
What never added up will add Up,
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended.
- And if there is no lining to the world?
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign,
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day
Make no sense following each other?
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth?
- Even if that is so, there will remain
A word wakened by lips that perish,
A tireless messenger who runs and runs
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies,
And calls out, protests, screams.
~ Czeslaw Milosz
All my life perplexed by truth and falsity, right and wrong;
Now amusing myself in the moonlight,
Laughing at the wind,
Listening to the songs of birds --
So many years spent idly contemplating
The immense white layer on the mountains;
This winter, all of a sudden,
I see it for the first time as a snow-mountain.
english version by Steven Heine
from The Zen Poetry of Dogen
with thanks to poetry chaikhana
art by Chen Jun
A man tips back his chair, all evening.
Years later, the ladder of small indentations
still marks the floor. Walking across it, then stopping.
Rarely are what is spoken and what is meant the same.
Mostly the mouth says one thing, the thighs and knees
say another, the floor hears a third.
Yet within us,
objects and longings are not different.
They twist on the stem of the heart, like ripening grapes.
~ Jane Hirshfield
from Given Sugar, Given Salt
from Given Sugar, Given Salt
with thanks to nexus
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
comes into the world unwelcome
calling disorder, disorder -
If you hate me so much don't bother to give me
a name: do you need
one more slur
in your language, another
way to blame
one tribe for everything -
as we both know, if you worship
one god, you only need
one enemy -
I'm not the enemy.
Only a ruse to ignore
what you see happening
right here in this bed,
a little paradigm
of failure. One of your precious flowers
dies here almost every day
and you can't rest until
you attack the cause,
whatever is left, whatever
happens to be sturdier
than your personal passion -
It was not meant
to last forever in the real world.
But why admit that, when you can go on
doing what you always do,
mourning and laying blame,
always the two together.
I don't need your praise
to survive. I was here first,
before you were here, before
you ever planted a garden.
And I'll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.
I will constitute the field.
~ Louise Gluck
from The Wild Iris
I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery. A thought was not there, then it is. An image, a story, an idea about what it is to be human, did not exist, then it does. With every new poem, an emotion new to the heart, to the world, speaks itself into being. Any new metaphor is a telescope, a canoe in rapids, an MRI machine. And like that MRI machine, sometimes its looking is accompanied by an awful banging. To write can be frightening as well as magnetic. You don't know what will happen when you throw open your windows and doors.
Why write? You might as well ask a fish, why swim, ask an apple tree, why make apples? The eye wants to look, the ear wants to hear, the heart wants to feel more than it thought it could bear...
The writer, when she or he cannot write, is a person outside the gates of her own being. Not long ago, I stood like that for months, disbarred from myself. Then, one sentence arrived; another. And I? I was a woman in love. For that also is what writing is. Every sentence that comes for a writer when actually writing—however imperfect, however inadequate—every sentence is a love poem to this world and to our good luck at being here, alive, in it.
~ Jane Hirshfield
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,
he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
drags him down all his life.
~ Constantine P. Cavafy
from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems
translated by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard
You turn towards meteor showers in August,
wishing yourself like that:
bright and burning wholly out.
When feeling finally comes it is
that falling, matter breaking away
from air, the sound
of crickets moving through the grass like fire—
and the strangely twisted metal
in the field that a child finds:
Then there’s the story of the Chinese sage,
in anger and despair, who cut his body away in pieces,
flung them into the lake.
Each one, becoming finned and whole, swims off.
~ Jane Hirshfield
self-portrait - 1901
Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth
Everyone wants to understand painting. Why don’t they try to understand the song of the birds? Why do they love a night, a flower, everything which surrounds man, without attempting to understand them? Whereas where painting is concerned, they want to understand. Let them understand above all that the artist works from necessity; that he, too, is a minute element of the world to whom one should ascribe no more importance than so many things in nature which charm us but which we do not explain to ourselves. Those who attempt to explain a picture are on the wrong track most of the time.
~ Pablo Picasso
Boisgeloup, winter 1934
Monday, October 24, 2011
Though your life has almost passed, this present moment is its root:
if it lacks moisture, water it with repentance.
Give the Living Water to the root of your life,
so that the tree of your life may flourish.
By this Water past mistakes are redeemed.
By this Water last year's poison is made sweet.
translation by Camille and Kabir Helminski
from Rumi: Jewels of Remembrance
Sunday, October 23, 2011
"Give us a king."
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king, He said,
"This is what the king who will reign over you will do:
He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.
Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.
He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.
He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.
Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.
He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen,
and the Lord will not answer you in that day.
"No," they said, "We want a king over us.
Then we will be like all the other nations,
with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles."
~ 1 Samuel 8, 11-19
from the Holy Bible
new international version
I play Haydn after a black day
and feel a simple warmth in my hands.
The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike.
The resonance green, lively and calm.
The music says freedom exists
and someone doesn't pay the emperor tax.
I push down my hands in my Haydnpockets
and imitate a person looking on the world calmly.
I hoist the Haydnflag - it signifies:
"We don't give in. But want peace.'
The music is a glass-house on the slope
where the stones fly, the stones roll.
And the stones roll right through
but each pane stays whole.
~ Tomas Transtromer
from New Collected Poems
translated by Robin Fulton
Saturday, October 22, 2011
My love and my yearning for home
ignited in the heat of this night
like the sweet fragrance of foreign flowers
fanning the flames of a fierce fervor.
My love and my yearning for home
and all my fortune and misfortune
now stand like silent stanzas of a song
in the dark mirror of your mythic gaze.
My love and my yearning for home
have turned away from the noise of this world
and in your dark eyes
have built a vast, secret throne.
~ Hermann Hesse
from The seasons of the Soul
translated by Ludwig Max Fischer
When the soul leaves the body, it is no longer under the burden and control of space and time. The soul is free; distance and separation hinder it no more. The dead are our nearest neighbors; they are all around us. Meister Eckhart was once asked, Where does the soul of a person go when the person dies? He said, no place. Where else would the soul be going? Where else is the eternal world? It can be nowhere other than here. We have falsely spatialized the eternal world. We have driven the eternal out into some kind of distant galaxy. Yet the eternal world does not seem to be a place but rather a different state of being. The soul of the person goes no place because there is no place else to go. This suggests that the dead are here with us, in the air that we are moving through all the time. The only difference between us the the dead is that they are now in an invisible form You cannot see them with the human eye. But you can sense the presence of those you love who have died. With the refinement of your soul, you can sense them. You feel that they are near.
~ John O'Donohue
from Anam Cara
art by Roderick Maclver
Friday, October 21, 2011
When I heard the sound of the bell ringing,
there was no bell,
and there was no I -
there was only the ringing.
Once you stop clinging and let things be,
you’ll be free, even of birth and death.
You’ll transform everything…
And you’ll be at peace wherever you are.
Even as fire finds peace
in its resting place without fuel,
when thoughts become silence
the soul finds peace in its own source.
When the mind is silent,
then it can enter into a world
which is far beyond the mind:
the highest End.
The mind should be kept in the heart
as long as it has not reached the highest End.
This is wisdom, and this is liberation.
Hidden in the heart of every creature
Exists the Self, subtler than the subtlest,
Greater than the greatest. They go beyond
All sorrow who extinguish their self-will
And behold the glory of the Self
Through the grace of the Lord of Love.
Though one sits in meditation in a
Particular place, the Self within
Can exercise his influence far away.
Though still, he moves everything everywhere.
When the wise realize the Self,
Formless in the midst of forms, changeless
In the midst of change, omnipresent
And supreme, they go beyond sorrow.
The Self cannot be known through study
Of the scriptures, nor through the intellect,
Nor through hearing discourses about it.
The Self can be attained only by those
Whom the Self chooses. Verily unto them
Does the Self reveal himself.
~ The Katha Upanishad
translated by Eknath Easwaran
Thursday, October 20, 2011
I was nearly killed here, one night in February.
My car shivered, and slewed sideways on the ice,
right across into the other lane. The slur of traffic
came at me with their lights.
My name, my girls, my job, all
slipped free and were left behind, smaller and smaller,
further and further away. I was a nobody:
a boy in a playground, suddenly surrounded.
The headlights of the oncoming cars
bore down on me as I wrestled the wheel through a slick
of terror, clear and slippery as egg-white.
The seconds grew and grew – making more room for me –
stretching huge as hospitals.
I almost felt that I could rest
and take a breath
before the crash.
Then something caught: some helpful sand
or a well-timed gust of wind. The car
snapped out of it, swinging back across the road.
A signpost shot up and cracked, with a sharp clang,
spinning away in the darkness.
And it was still. I sat back in my seat-belt
and watched someone tramp through the whirling snow
to see what was left of me.
~ Tomas Transtromer
Tranströmer is the recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature. His other honors and awards include the Aftonbladets Literary Prize, the Bonnier Award for Poetry, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Oevralids Prize, the Petrach Prize in Germany, and the Swedish Award from International Poetry Forum.
He has read at many American universities, often with poet and friend Robert Bly. Tranströmer is a respected psychologist, and has worked at a juvenile prison, and with the disabled, convicts, and drug addicts. He lives with his wife Monica in Vasteras, west of Stockholm.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Two things of opposite natures seem to depend
On one another, as Logos depends
On Eros, day on night, the imagined
On the real. This is the origin of change.
Winter and spring, cold copulars, embrace
And forth the particulars of rapture come.
Music falls on the silence like a sense
A passion that we feel, not understand.
Morning and afternoon are clasped together
And North and South are an intrinsic couple
And sun and rain a plural, like two lovers
That walk away together as one in the greenest body.
~ Wallace Stevens
Unto the deep the deep heart goes,
It lays its sadness nigh the breast:
Only the Mighty Mother knows
The wounds that quiver unconfessed.
It seeks a deeper silence still;
It folds itself around with peace,
Where thoughts alike of good or ill
In quietness unfostered cease.
It feels in the unwounding vast
For comfort for its hopes and fears:
The Mighty Mother bows at last;
She listens to her children's tears.
Where the last anguish deepens -- there
The fire of beauty smites through pain:
A glory moves amid despair,
The Mother takes her child again.
~ A. E. (George William Russell)
with thanks to poetry chaikhana