Saturday, December 31, 2011










at the end of year








The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline's longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.

The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.




~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us






Friday, December 30, 2011

desire-weeds






The way the soul is with the senses
and the mind, is like a creek.
When desire-weeds grow thick,
your intelligence cannot flow,
and soul-creatures stay hidden.
But sometimes a flooding comes
that runs so strong
it clears the clogged stream,
as though with God’s hand.
No longer weeping and frustrated,
your being grows as powerful
as your wantings were before.
Laughing and satisfied,
that masterful current
lets soul-creatures appear.
You look down,
and it’s lucid dreaming.
The gates made of light
swing open. You see in.




~ Rumi
from A Year with Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks
photo by ansel adams





trying to reconcile






On the one hand I felt the call of God; on the other, I continued to follow the world. 
All the things of God gave me great pleasure, but I was held captive by those of the world. 
I might have been said to be trying to reconcile these two extremes, 
to bring contraries together: the spiritual life on the one hand and worldly satisfactions, 
pleasures, and pastimes on the other. 



~ Saint Teresa of Avila






Sunday, December 25, 2011

St. Vith, December 21, 1944



TANKS OF THE 7TH ARMORED DIVISION in a temporary position near St. Vith




Cut off in front of the line
that now ran through St. Vith,
the five American tanks sat
in a field covered with snow
in the dark. And now they must
retreat to safety, which they
could do only through gunfire
and flame in the burning town.
They went, firing, through the fire,
GIs and German prisoners
clinging to the hulls, and out
again into the still night beyond.
In the broad dark, someone
began to sing, and one by one
the others sang also, the German
prisoners singing in German,
the Americans in English,
the one song. "Silent night,"
they sang as the great treads
passed on across the dark
countryside muffled in white
snow, "Holy night."



~ Wendell Berry



Saturday, December 24, 2011

so silent







There is a silent self within us whose presence is disturbing precisely because it is so silent: 
it can’t be spoken. It has to remain silent. 
To articulate it, to verbalize it, is to tamper with it, and in some ways to destroy it. 

Now let us frankly face the fact that our culture is one which is geared in many ways 
to help us evade any need to face this inner, silent self. 
We live in a state of constant semi-attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, 
or the generalized noise of what goes on around us all the time. 
This keeps us immersed in a flood of racket and words, 
a diffuse medium in which our consciousness is half diluted: 
we are not quite ‘thinking,’ not entirely responding, but we are more or less there. 

We are not fully present and not entirely absent; 
not fully withdrawn, yet not completely available. 
It cannot be said that we are really participating in anything and we may, 
in fact, be half conscious of our alienation and resentment. 

Yet we derive a certain comfort from the vague sense that we are ‘part of’ something – 
although we are not quite able to define what that something is – 
and probably wouldn't want to define it even if we could. 

We just float along in the general noise. 
Resigned and indifferent, we share semi-consciously 
in the mindless mind of Muzak and radio commercials which passes for ‘reality.’





~ Thomas Merton
from Essential Writings
with thanks to running cause i cant fly





Friday, December 23, 2011

the hermit





Early in the morning the hermit wakes, hearing
The roots of the fir tree stir beneath his floor.
Someone is there.  That strength buried
In earth carries up the summer world.  When
A man loves a woman, he nourishes her.
Dancers strew the lawn with the light of their feet.
When a woman loves the earth, she nourishes it.
Earth nourishes what no one can see.




~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey


Gratulerer med dagen, Robert

if you open yourself







Nature uses few words:
when the gale blows, it will not last long;
when it rains hard, it lasts but a little while;
What causes these to happen? Heaven and Earth.

Why do we humans go on endlessly about little
when nature does much in a little time?
If you open yourself to the Tao,
you and Tao become one.
If you open yourself to Virtue,
then you can become virtuous.
If you open yourself to loss,
then you will become lost.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
the Tao will eagerly welcome you.
If you open yourself to virtue,
virtue will become a part of you.
If you open yourself to loss,
the lost are glad to see you.

"When you do not trust people,
people will become trustworthy."



~ Lao Tzu
from the Tao Te Ching, 23
translation by j.h. mcdonald




the kingdom






At times
the heart
stands back
and looks at the body,
looks at the mind,
as a lion
quietly looks
at the not-quite-itself,
not-quite-another,
moving of shadows and grass.

Wary, but with interest,
considers its kingdom.

Then seeing
all that will be,
heart once again enters -- 
enters hunger, enters sorrow,
enters finally losing it all.
To know, if nothing else,
what it once owned.







~ Jane Hirshfield
from The October Palace





Thursday, December 22, 2011

the ninth elegy





Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely
in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on the edges
of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze)–: why then
have to be human–and, escaping from fate,
keep longing for fate? . . .

Oh not because happiness exists,
that too-hasty profit snatched from approaching loss.
Not out of curiosity, not as practice for the heart, which
would exist in the laurel too. . . . .

But because truly being here is so much; because everything here
apparently needs us, this fleeting world, which in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more. And we too,
just once. And never again. But to have been
this once, completely, even if only once:
to have been one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

And so we keep pressing on, trying to achieve it,
trying to hold it firmly in our simple hands,
in our overcrowded gaze, in our speechless heart.
Trying to become it.–Whom can we give it to? We would
hold on to it all, forever . . . Ah, but what can we take along
into that other realm? Not the art of looking,
which is learned so slowly, and nothing that happened here. Nothing.
The sufferings, then. And above all, the heaviness,
and the long experience of love,– just what is wholly
unsayable. But later, among the stars,
what good is it – they are better as they are: unsayable.
For when the traveler returns from the mountain-slopes into the valley,
he brings, not a handful of earth, unsayable to others, but instead
some word he has gained, some pure word, the yellow and blue
gentian. Perhaps we are here in order to say: house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window–
at most: column, tower. . . . But to say them, you must understand,
oh to say them more intensely than the Things themselves
ever dreamed of existing. Isn't the secret intent
of this taciturn earth, when it forces lovers together,
that inside their boundless emotion all things may shudder with joy?
Threshold: what it means for two lovers
to be wearing down, imperceptibly, the ancient threshold of their door–
they too, after the many who came before them
and before those to come. . . . ., lightly.

Here is the time for the sayable, here is its homeland.
Speak and bear witness. More than ever
the Things that we might experience are vanishing, for
what crowds them out and replaces them is an imageless act.
An act under a shell, which easily cracks open as soon as
the business inside outgrows it and seeks new limits.
Between the hammers our heart
endures, just as the tongue does
between the teeth and, despite that,
still is able to praise.

Praise this world to the angel, not the unsayable one,
you can’t impress him with glorious emotion; in the universe
where he feels more powerfully, you are a novice. So show him
something simple which, formed over generations,
lives as our own, near our hand and within our gaze.
Tell him of Things. He will stand astonished; as you stood
by the ropemaker in Rome or the potter along the Nile.
Show him how happy a Thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even lamenting grief purely decides to take form,
serves as a Thing, or dies into a Thing–, and blissfully
escapes far beyond the violin.–And these Things,
which live by perishing, know you are praising them; transient,
they look to us for deliverance: us, the most transient of all.
They want us to change them, utterly, in our invisible heart,
within–oh endlessly–within us! Whoever we may be at last.

Earth, isn't this what you want: to arise within us,
invisible? Isn't it your dream
to be wholly invisible someday?–O Earth: invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your urgent command?
Earth, my dearest, I will. Oh believe me, you no longer
need your springtimes to win me over–one of them,
ah, even one, is already too much for my blood.
Unspeakably I have belonged to you, from the first.
You were always right, and your holiest inspiration
is our intimate companion, Death.

Look, I am living. On what? Neither childhood nor future
grows any smaller . . . . . Superabundant being
wells up in my heart.





~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from Duino Elegies (1923)



Empedocles' Physics








In all its parts the deep foul valley trembled so
I thought the universe felt love, which some believe
Has many times returned the world to chaos; here below
And elsewhere in that moment, the ancient cliffsides tumbled.

The Inferno, Canto XII



'Aversion carves the self.'
- A Vedic teaching too, though here
it is Empedocles', who wrote
that Hate creates our fractal'd world,
which Love would have a single, formless sphere.
An example: enemy soldiers, late
in 1914, carolled each other across the fields.
Could not, next dawn, take up their former places.
Such is the chaos that affection yields.

When did we cut the long-compounded verbs
into their separate nouns,
the worm's life from the bird's?
Must it be loneliness crowns all things
that live?  Packed fat of the sea-lion,
fox blood splashing the brush like early sun-
why give them to our wars to be undone?
But what if in truth Love's perfect One were
Dante's sheered disorder, the known world tumbled?
If the longing and stumble of self were made of sin?
Choose Hate, to stay faceted then
in the many and season-strung minds, the battered salmonskin
peeling its sky's flung rind, the blossoming strife.
Choose the cell's dividing, life into life,
the too-bright stream.  Choose beauty loved-
how loved - within division's light.




~ Jane Hirshfield
from The October Palace
art by picasso




Wednesday, December 21, 2011

search for happiness?








Don’t you see that it is your very search for happiness that makes you feel miserable? 
Try the other way: indifferent to pain and pleasure, 
neither seeking, nor refusing, 
give all your attention to the level on which ‘I am’ is timelessly present. 

Soon you will realize that peace and happiness are in your very nature 
and it is only seeking them through some particular channels that disturbs. 

Avoid the disturbance, that is all. 
To seek there is no need; you would not seek what you already have. 
You yourself are God, the Supreme Reality. 
To begin with, trust me, trust the teacher. 
It enables you to make the first step - 
and then your trust is justified by your own experience.



~ Nisargadatta Maharaj



Wendell Berry - on work





This article is printed here courtesy of The Progressive , where it originally appeared as a letter to the editor in response to the article “Less Work, More Life.”

The Progressive, in the September issue, both in Matthew Rothschild’s “Editor’s Note” and in the article by John de Graaf (“Less Work, More Life”), offers “less work” and a 30-hour workweek as needs that are as indisputable as the need to eat.

"Though I would support the idea of a 30-hour workweek in some circumstances, I see nothing absolute or indisputable about it. It can be proposed as a universal need only after abandonment of any respect for vocation and the replacement of discourse by slogans.

It is true that the industrialization of virtually all forms of production and service has filled the world with “jobs” that are meaningless, demeaning, and boring—as well as inherently destructive. I don’t think there is a good argument for the existence of such work, and I wish for its elimination, but even its reduction calls for economic changes not yet defined, let alone advocated, by the “left” or the “right.” Neither side, so far as I know, has produced a reliable distinction between good work and bad work. To shorten the “official workweek” while consenting to the continuation of bad work is not much of a solution.

The old and honorable idea of “vocation” is simply that we each are called, by God, or by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted. Implicit in this idea is the evidently startling possibility that we might work willingly, and that there is no necessary contradiction between work and happiness or satisfaction.

Only in the absence of any viable idea of vocation or good work can one make the distinction implied in such phrases as “less work, more life” or “work-life balance,” as if one commutes daily from life here to work there.

But aren't we living even when we are most miserably and harmfully at work?

And isn't that exactly why we object (when we do object) to bad work?

And if you are called to music or farming or carpentry or healing, if you make your living by your calling, if you use your skills well and to a good purpose and therefore are happy or satisfied in your work, why should you necessarily do less of it?

More important, why should you think of your life as distinct from it?

And why should you not be affronted by some official decree that you should do less of it?

A useful discourse on the subject of work would raise a number of questions that Mr. de Graaf has neglected to ask:

What work are we talking about?

Did you choose your work, or are you doing it under compulsion as the way to earn money?

How much of your intelligence, your affection, your skill, and your pride is employed in your work?

Do you respect the product or the service that is the result of your work?

For whom do you work: a manager, a boss, or yourself?

What are the ecological and social costs of your work?

If such questions are not asked, then we have no way of seeing or proceeding beyond the assumptions of Mr. de Graaf and his work-life experts: that all work is bad work; that all workers are unhappily and even helplessly dependent on employers; that work and life are irreconcilable; and that the only solution to bad work is to shorten the workweek and thus divide the badness among more people.

I don’t think anybody can honorably object to the proposition, in theory, that it is better “to reduce hours rather than lay off workers.” But this raises the likelihood of reduced income and therefore of less “life.” As a remedy for this, Mr. de Graaf can offer only “unemployment benefits,” one of the industrial economy’s more fragile “safety nets.”

And what are people going to do with the “more life” that is understood to be the result of “less work”? Mr. de Graaf says that they “will exercise more, sleep more, garden more, spend more time with friends and family, and drive less.” This happy vision descends from the proposition, popular not so long ago, that in the spare time gained by the purchase of “labor-saving devices,” people would patronize libraries, museums, and symphony orchestras.

But what if the liberated workers drive more?

What if they recreate themselves with off-road vehicles, fast motorboats, fast food, computer games, television, electronic “communication,” and the various genres of pornography?

Well, that’ll be “life,” supposedly, and anything beats work.

Mr. de Graaf makes the further doubtful assumption that work is a static quantity, dependably available, and divisible into dependably sufficient portions. This supposes that one of the purposes of the industrial economy is to provide employment to workers. On the contrary, one of the purposes of this economy has always been to transform independent farmers, shopkeepers, and tradespeople into employees, and then to use the employees as cheaply as possible, and then to replace them as soon as possible with technological substitutes.

So there could be fewer working hours to divide, more workers among whom to divide them, and fewer unemployment benefits to take up the slack.

On the other hand, there is a lot of work needing to be done—ecosystem and watershed restoration, improved transportation networks, healthier and safer food production, soil conservation, etc.—that nobody yet is willing to pay for. Sooner or later, such work will have to be done.

We may end up working longer workdays in order not to “live,” but to survive."

Wendell Berry
Port Royal, Kentucky
Love Wins


with thanks to practicing resurrection



stable as the land







How necessary it is for monks to work in the fields, 
in the rain, in the sun, in the mud, in the clay, 
in the wind: these are our spiritual directors and our novice masters. 
They form our contemplation. 
They instill virtue into us. 
They make us as stable as the land we live in. 
You do not get that out of a typewriter.





Thomas Merton
from The Intimate Merton
art by van gogh




what the heart wants






See then 
what the heart wants,
that pliable iron
sprung to the poppy's redness,
the honey's gold, winged
as the heron-lit water is:
by reflecting.
As an aged elephant answers
the slightest, first gesture of hand,
it puts itself at the mercy -
utterly docile, the forces
that brought it there vanished,
fold into fold.
And the old-ice ivory, the unstartlable
black of the eye that has traveled so far 
with the fringed, peripheral howdah
swaying behind, look mildly back
as it swings the whole bulk of the body
close to the ground.  Over and over
it does this, bends to what asks.
Whatever asks, heart kneels and offers to bear.



~ Jane Hirshfield
from The October Palace


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

finding the father





My friend, this body offers to carry us for nothing - as the ocean carries logs.
So on some days the body wails with its great energy;
it smashes up the boulders,
lifting small crabs, that flow around the sides.

Someone knocks on the door.
We do not have time to dress.
He wants us to go with him through the blowing and rainy streets,
to the dark house.

We will go there, the body says,
and there find the father whom we have never met,
who wandered out in a snowstorm the night we were born,
and who then lost his memory,
and has lived since longing for his child,
whom he saw only once...
while he worked as a shoemaker,
as a cattle herder in Australia,
as a restaurant cook who painted at night.

When you light the lamp you will see him.
he sits there behind the door....
the eyebrows so heavy,
the forehead so light....
lonely in his whole body,
waiting for you.





~ Robert Bly
from Reaching Out to the World



















Sunday, December 18, 2011

morning bird songs






I wake up my car;
pollen covers the windshield.
I put my dark glasses on.
The bird songs all turn dark.

Meanwhile someone is buying a paper
at the railroad station
not far from a big freight car
reddened all over with rust.
It shimmers in the sun.

The whole universe is full.

A cool corridor cuts through the spring warmth;
a man comes hurrying past
describing how someone right up in the main office
has been telling lies about him.

Trough a backdoor in the landscape
the magpie arrives,
black and white, bird of the death-goddess.
A blackbird flies back and forth
until the whole scene becomes a charcoal drawing,
except for the white clothes on the line:
a Palestrina choir.

The whole universe is full!

Fantastic to feel how my poem is growing
while I myself am shrinking.

It's getting bigger, it's taking my place,
it's pressing against me.
It has shoved me out of the nest.
The poem is finished.




~ Tomas Transtromer
from The Unfinished Heaven
translated by robert bly




a love song














The little river twittering in the twilight,
The wan, wondering look of the pale sky,
This is almost bliss.


And everything shut up and gone to sleep,
All the troubles and anxieties and pain
Gone under the twilight.


Only the twilight now, and the soft "Sh!" of the river
That will last forever.


And at last I know my love for you is here;
I can see it all, it is whole like the twilight,
It is large, so large, I could not see it before,
Because of the little lights and flickers and interruptions,
Troubles, anxieties and pains.


You are the call and I am the answer,
You are the wish, and I the fullfilment,
You are the night, and I the day.
What else - it is perfect enough.
It is perfectly complete,
You and I,
What more--?


Strange, how we suffer in spite of this.








~ DH Lawrence
from Look! We Have Come Through!
photo by kate thompson






Saturday, December 17, 2011

without time?






Like a singer, for example; to him the voice is the greatest security, and when that fails he is ready to commit suicide. What is really exciting and true is to find out for oneself a way of life that is highly sensitive and supremely intelligent; and this is not possible if there is fear, anxiety, greed, envy, the building of images or the living in religious isolation. That isolation is what all religions have supplied: the believer is definitely on the threshold of suicide. Because he has put all his faith in a belief, when that belief is questioned he is afraid and is ready to take on another belief, another image, commit another religious suicide. So, can a man live without any image, without any pattern, without any time-sense? I don’t mean living in such a way as not to care what happens tomorrow or what happened yesterday, That is not living. There are those who say, “Take the present and make the best of it; that is also an act of despair. Really one should not ask whether or not it is right to commit suicide; one should ask what brings about the state of mind that has no hope – though hope is the wrong word because hope implies a future; one should ask rather, how does a life come about that is without time? To live without time is really to have this sense of great love, because love is not of time, love is not something that was or will be; to explore this and live with it is the real question. Whether to commit suicide or not is the question of a man who is already partially dead. Hope is the most dreadful thing. Wasn't it Dante who said, “Leave hope behind when you enter the Inferno”? To him, paradise was hope, that's horrible.





~ J. Krishnamurti
from The Urgency of Change
art by Katsushika Hokusai





blank postcards




I.
The calendar all booked up, the future unknown.
The cable silently hums some folk song
but lacks a country.  Snow falls in a gray sea.  Shadows
fight out on the dock.

 II.
Halfway through your life, death turns up
and takes your pertinent measurements.  We forget
the visit.  Life goes on. But someone is sewing
the suit in the silence.




~Tomas Transtromer
from The Half-Finished Heaven
translation by robert bly
art by picasso


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

under pressure






Powerful engines from the blue sky.
We live on a construction site where everything shivers,
where the ocean depths can suddenly open.
A hum in seashells and telephones.

You can see beauty if you look quickly to the side.
The heavy grainfields run together in one yellow river.
The restless shadows in my head want to go out there.
They want to crawl in the grain and turn into something gold.

Night finally.  At midnight I go to bed.
The dinghy sets out from the ship.
On the water you are alone.
The dark hull of society keeps on going.




~ Tomas Transtromer
from Half Finished Heaven
translated by robert bly
art by van gogh