Tuesday, January 31, 2012

to deliver oneself up

To deliver oneself up,
to hand oneself over,
entrust oneself completely to the silence
of a wide landscape of woods and hills,
or sea and desert; to sit still while
the sun comes up over the land
and fills its silences with light.

...few 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

paying attention to the melody

All right.  I know that each of us will die alone.
It doesn't matter how loud or soft the sitar plays.
Sooner or later the melody will say it all.

The prologue is so long!  At last the theme comes.
It says the soul will rise above all these notes.
It says the dust will be swept up from the floor.

It doesn't matter if we say our prayers or not.
We know the canoe is heading straight for the falls,
And no one will pick us up from the water this time.

One day the mice will carry our ragged impulses
All the way to Egypt, and at home the cows
Will graze on a thousand acres of thought.

Everyone goes on hoping for a good death.
The old rope hangs down from the hangman's nail.
The forty-nine robbers are climbing into their boots.

Robert, don't expect too much.  You've put yourself
Ahead of others for years, a hundred years.
It will take a long time for you to hear the melody.

~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

active life

If an expert does not have some problem to vex him,
he is unhappy!
If a philosopher's teaching is never attacked, he pines away!
If critics have no one on whom to exercise their spite,
they are unhappy.
All such men are prisoners in the world of objects.

He who wants followers, seeks political power.
He who wants reputation holds an office.
The strong man looks for weights to lift.
The brave man looks for an emergency in which he can 
show bravery.
The swordsman wants a battle in which he can swing
his sword.
Men past their prime prefer a dignified retirement, in which 
they may seem profound.
Men experienced in law seek difficult cases to extend
the application of laws.
Liturgists and musicians like festivals in which they parade
their ceremonious talents.
The benevolent, the dutiful, are always looking for chances
to display virtue.
Where would the gardener be if there were no more weeds?
What would become of business without a market of fools?
Where would the masses be if there were no pretext
for getting jammed together and making noise?
What would become of labor if there were no superfluous
objects to be made?

Produce! Get results! Make money! Make friends!
Make changes!
Or you will die of despair!

Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy
except in activity and change - the whirring of the machine!
Whenever an occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled
to act; they cannot help themselves.  They are inexorably
moved, like the machine of which they are a part.  Prisoners
in the world of objects, they have no choice but to submit to
the demands of matter!  They are pressed down and crushed
by external forces, fashion, the market, events, public opinion.
Never in a whole lifetime do they recover their right mind!
The active life! What a pity!

~ Chuang Tzu
translation by Thomas Merton
from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton

the weight

Two horses were put together in the same paddock.
Night and day. In the night and in the day
wet from heat and the chill of the wind
on it. Muzzle to water, snorting, head swinging
and the taste of bay in the shadowed air.
The dignity of being. They slept that way,
knowing each other always.
Withers quivering for a moment,
fetlock and the proud rise at the base of the tail,
width of back. The volume of them, and each other's weight.
Fences were nothing compared to that.
People were nothing. They slept standing,
their throats curved against the other's rump.
They breathed against each other,
whinnied and stomped.
There are things they did that I do not know.
The privacy of them had a river in it.
Had our universe in it. And the way
its border looks back at us with its light.
This was finally their freedom.
The freedom an oak tree knows.
That is built at night by stars.

~ Linda Gregg
from Chosen by the Lion
portrait by jack richard smith
with thanks to writers almanac

Monday, January 30, 2012

action and non-action

The non-action of the wise man is not inaction.
It is not studied.  It is not shaken by anything.
The sage is quiet because he is not moved,
Not because he wills to be quiet.
Still water is like glass.
You can look in it and see the bristles on your chin.
It is a perfect level;
A carpenter could use it.
If water is so clear, so level,
How much more the spirit of man?
The heart of the wise man is tranquil.
It is the mirror of heaven and earth
The glass of everything.
Emptiness, stillness, tranquility, tastelessness,
Silence, non-action: this is the level of heaven and earth.
This is perfect Tao. Wise men find here
Their resting place.
Resting, they are empty.

From emptiness comes the unconditioned.
From this, the conditioned, the individual things.
So from the sage's emptiness, stillness arises:
From stillness, action. From action, attainment.
From their stillness comes their non-action, which is also action
And is, therefore, their attainment.
For stillness is joy.  Joy is free from care.
Fruitful in long years.
Joy does all things without concern:
For emptiness, stillness, tranquility, tastelessness,
Silence, and non-action
Are the root of all things.

~ Chuang Tzu
translation by Thomas Merton

when death is denied

When death is denied, life loses its depth. 
 The possibility of knowing who we are beyond name and form, 
the dimension of the transcendent, disappears from our lives because death is the opening into that dimension. 

People tend to be uncomfortable with endings, because every ending is a little death. 
 That's why in many languages the word for “good-bye” means “see you again.” 

Whenever an experience comes to an end -
 a gathering of friends, a vacation, your children leaving home - you die a little death. 
 A “form” that appeared in your consciousness as that experience dissolves. 
 Often this leaves behind a feeling of emptiness that most people try hard not to feel, not to face. 

If you can learn to accept and even welcome the endings in your life, 
you may find that the feeling of emptiness that initially felt uncomfortable turns into a sense of inner spaciousness that is deeply peaceful.

By learning to die daily in this way, you open yourself to life….
Whenever death occurs, whenever a life form dissolves, 
God, the formless and unmanifested, shines through the opening left by the dissolving form. 

 That is why the most sacred thing in life is death. 
 That is why the peace of God can come to you through contemplation and acceptance of death.

~ Eckhart Tolle

Sunday, January 29, 2012

creator, preserver, and destroyer

statue from Tamil Nadu, Chola Dynasty, India

As a symbol, Shiva Nataraja is a brilliant invention. 
It combines in a single image Shiva's roles as creator, preserver, and destroyer 
of the universe and conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of time. 

Although it appeared in sculpture as early as the fifth century, its present, 
world-famous form evolved under the rule of the Cholas. 
Shiva's dance is set within a flaming halo. 
The god holds in his upper right hand the damaru (hand drum that made the first sounds of creation). 
His upper left hand holds agni (the fire that will destroy the universe). 
With his lower right hand, he makes abhayamudra (the gesture that allays fear). 
The dwarflike figure being trampled by his right foot represents 
apasmara purusha (illusion, which leads mankind astray). 
Shiva's front left hand, pointing to his raised left foot, 
signifies refuge for the troubled soul. 
The energy of his dance makes his hair fly to the sides.

~ description by the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Beneath its diversity and complexity, the underlying unity of Hinduism has correspondences with the inward dimension of the Christian faith.

~ Ursula King


We know loneliness, don’t we?, the fear, the misery, the antagonism, the real fright of a mind that is aware of its own loneliness. We all know that. Don’t we? That state of loneliness is not foreign to any one of us. You may have all the riches, all the pleasures, you may have great capacity and bliss; but within there is always the lurking shadow of loneliness.

The rich man, the poor man who is struggling, the man who is writing, creating, the worshiper – they all know this loneliness. When it is in that state, what does the mind do? The mind turns on the radio, picks up a book, runs away from `what is’ into something which is not. Sirs, do follow what I am saying – not the words but the application, the observation of your own loneliness.

When the mind is aware of its loneliness, it runs away, escapes. The escape, whether into religious contemplation or going to a cinema, is exactly the same; it is still an escape from `what is’. The man who escapes through drinking is no more immoral than the one who escapes by the worship of God; they are both the same, both are escaping.

When you observe the fact that you are lonely, if there is no escape and therefore no struggle into the opposite, then, generally, the mind tends to condemn it according to the frame of its knowledge; but if there is no condemnation, then the whole attitude of the mind towards the thing it has called lonely, has undergone a complete change, has it not?

After all, loneliness is a state of self-isolation, because the mind encloses itself and cuts itself away from every relationship, from everything. In that state, the mind knows loneliness; and if, without condemning it, the mind be aware and not create the escape, then surely that loneliness undergoes a transformation. The transformation might then be called `aloneness’ – it does not matter what word you use. In that aloneness, there is no fear.

The mind that feels lonely because it has isolated itself through various activities, is afraid of that loneliness. But if there is awareness in which there is no choice – which means no condemnation – then the mind is no longer lonely but it is in a state of aloneness in which there is no corruption, in which there is no process of self-enclosure. One must be alone, there must be that aloneness, in that sense. Loneliness is a state of frustration, aloneness is not; and aloneness is not the opposite of loneliness.

Surely, Sirs, we must be alone, alone from all influences, from all compulsions, from all demands, longings, hopes, so that the mind is no longer in the action of frustration. That aloneness is essential, it is a religious thing. But the mind cannot come to it without understanding the whole problem of loneliness. Most of us are lonely, all our activities are the activities of frustration. The happy man is not a lonely man. Happiness is alone, and the action of aloneness is entirely different from the activities of loneliness.

All this requires, does it not?, awareness, a total awareness of one’s whole being, conscious as well as the unconscious. As most of us only live on the superficial consciousness, on the surface level of our mind, the deep underground forces, loneliness, desperations and hopes are always frustrating the superficial activity. So it is important to understand the total being of the mind; and that understanding is denied when there is awareness in which there is choice, condemnation.

~ J. Krishnamurti

Friday, January 27, 2012

only breath

~ Rumi
with Coleman Barks

after long busyness

I start out for a walk at last after weeks at the desk.
Moon gone, plowing underfoot, no stars, not a trace of light!
Suppose a horse were galloping toward me in this open field?
Every day I did not spend in solitude was wasted.

~ Robert Bly
photo by michael totten

Lewis Carroll

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat:
 "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, 
"or you wouldn't have come here."

(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) 

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, 
"I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- 
at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, 
but I think I must have been changed several times since then."

(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) 

drawings by Sir John Tenniel

Alice Liddell

" Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin," thought Alice; 
" but a grin without a cat! 
It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!"

(Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) 

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said
 "one can't believe impossible things." 

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.
"When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. 
Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." 

(Through the Looking Glass) 

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 
"it means just what I choose it to mean -- 
neither more nor less." 

"The question is," said Alice, 
"whether you can make words mean so many different things." 

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, 
"which is to be master - - 
that's all." 

(Through the Looking Glass) 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Birthday Jacqueline

~ Jacqueline Mary du Pre

January 26th 1945 – 19 October 19th 1987 

Her interpretation of Elgar's Cello Concerto in E minor has been described as "definitive" and "legendary." Her career was cut short by multiple sclerosis, which forced her to stop performing at 28 and led to her premature death. Posthumously, she also became the subject of a cinematic film "Hilary and Jackie", that was factually controversial and criticized by many over the sensationalization of her private life. The film was based on the posthumous memoir "A Genius in the Family" published by her siblings Hilary du Pré and Piers du Pre. 

emptied of all things

For He is the Very Rest.
God wishes to be known, 
And it pleases Him that
We rest in Him;
For all that is beneath Him
Will never satisfy us.
Therefore no soul is rested
Til it is emptied of all things
That are made.
When, for love of Him, 
It is empty, 
The soul can
Receive His deep rest.

~ Julian of Norwich, (1342-c. 1423)

She may have joined a Benedictine community earlier, but then at the age of thirty she fell ill to the point of death and was given last rites. She then received a series of sixteen visions which were later described in her work entitled Showings, or Revelations of Divine Love in the first book known to have been written by a woman in English.  It exists in two versions, a short text of twenty-five chapters and a much longer text of eighty-six chapters.  The first thought to have been written immediately after the visions were received,  and the second after years of meditation on the meaning of these visions.

"Be still and know that I am God," so says the Psalmist (Psalm 46:10), yet the word rest adds a dimension of stillness.  It implies letting go of effort - even the effort to be internally still - and allowing oneself to be held by  that which can not be named or known.  When we do let go of all desires for this and that, when we are empty, we receive his deep rest.  

~ contributing to comments: Roger Housden and Ursula King

creativity - authority - self-knowledge

There is no method for self-knowledge. 

Seeking a method invariably implies the desire to attain some result and that is what we all want. We follow authority - if not that of a person, then of a system, of an ideology - because we want a result that will be satisfactory, which will give us security. We really do not want to understand ourselves, our impulses and reactions, the whole process of our thinking, the conscious as well as the unconscious; we would rather pursue a system that assures us of a result. But the pursuit of a system is invariably the outcome of our desire for security, for certainty, and the result is obviously not the understanding of oneself. When we follow a method, we must have authorities - the teacher, the guru, the savior, the Master - who will guarantee us what we desire; and surely that is not the way to self-knowledge.

Authority prevents the understanding of oneself, does it not? Under the shelter of an authority, a guide, you may have temporarily a sense of security, a sense of well-being, but that is not the understanding of the total process of oneself. Authority in its very nature prevents the full awareness of oneself and therefore ultimately destroys freedom; in freedom alone can there be creativeness. 

There can be creativeness only through self-knowledge.

~ J. Krishnamurti
from The Book of Life
with thanks to j krishnamurti online

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

until we know everything

We know nothing until we know everything.

I have no object to defend
for all is of equal value
to me.

I cannot lose anything in this
place of abundance
I found.

If something my heart cherishes
is taken away,

I just say, "Lord, what happened?"

And a hundred more appear.

~ Saint Catherine of Siena, (1347-1380)

she felt the need to go out into the world and help her neighbors out of love for God.  Thus she was not only and ascetic and mystic, but also and activist...She devoted herself with such dedication to the sick and poor of Siena that they called her "our holly mother."

comment by Ursula King
art by Sano di Pietro

blessing in the chaos

To all that is chaotic
in you,
let there come silence.

Let there be
a calming
of the clamoring,
a stilling
of the voices that
have laid their claim
on you,
that have made their
home in you,

that go with you
even to the
holy places
but will not
let you rest,
will not let you
hear your life
with wholeness
or feel the grace
that fashioned you.

Let what distracts you
Let what divides you
Let there come an end
to what diminishes
and demeans,
and let depart
all that keeps you
in its cage.

Let there be
an opening
into the quiet
that lies beneath
the chaos,
where you find
the peace
you did not think
and see what shimmers
within the storm.

The human heart continues to dream of a state of wholeness, a place where everything comes together, where loss will be made good, where blindness will transform into vision, where damage will be made whole, where the clenched question will open in the house of surprise, where the travails of a life’s journey will enjoy a homecoming. To invoke a blessing is to call some of that wholeness upon a person now. 

~ Jan Richardson
art by klimt

and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore

"The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore."

~  from Of Human Bondage, 1915

Maugham then studied medicine for six years in London. He qualified in 1897 as doctor from St. Thomas' medical school, but abandoned medicine after the success of his first novels and plays.

"I have never pretended to be anything but a story teller. It has amused me to tell stories and I have told a great many. It is a misfortune for me that the telling of a story just for the sake of the story is not an activity that is in favor with the intelligentsia. I endeavor to bear my misfortunes with fortitude." 

from Creatures of Circumstance, 1947

With the outbreak of WW I, Maugham volunteered for the Red Cross, and was stationed in France for a period. There he met Gerald Haxton (1892-1944), an American, who became his companion. Disguising himself as a reporter, Maugham served as an espionage agent for British Secret Intelligence Service in Russia in 1916-17, but his stuttering and poor health hindered his career in this field.

In 1917 he married Syrie Barnardo Wellcome, an interior decorator; they were divored in 1927-8.


Maugham named his daughter and only child, Elizabeth 'Liza' Mary Maugham, after the title character in his first novel  Liza of Lambeth.

Liza center

"He did not know how wide a country, arid and precipitous, must be crossed before the traveler through life comes to an acceptance of reality. It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched, for they are full of the truth-less ideals which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real they are bruised and wounded."

~ from Of Human Bondage, Ch. 29
Initially titled "The Artistic Temperament of Stephen Carey"

“The writer is more concerned to know than to judge,” 
declares the narrator of Maugham’s novel The Moon and Sixpence (1919)

Guy Hague and Ramana Maharshi

Meditation enables them to go
Deeper and deeper into consciousness,
From the world of words to the world of thoughts,
Then beyond thoughts to wisdom in the Self.

Sharp like a razor's edge, the sages say,
Is the path, difficult to traverse.

~ Katha Upanishad

This is the passage from which the title of Somerset Maugham's book The Razor's Edge was taken. His story traces the spiritual journey of an American fighter pilot traumatized by WWI. The book is apparently based on the life of Guy Hague who had spent time with Ramana Maharshi in Tamil Nadu, India, as did Maugham himself.
Maugham's novels explore the beauty of and intricacy of the fabric of life in-which we are all entwined.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

you can barely distinguish me

I have hymns you haven't heard.

There is an upward soaring
in which I bend close.
You can barely distinguish me
from the things that kneel before me.

They are like sheep, they are grazing.
I am the shepherd on the brow of the hill.
When evening draws them home
I follow after, the dark bridge thudding,

and the vapor rising from their backs
hides my own homecoming.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from The Book of Monastic Life
translation by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
art from the cave of chauvet-pont-d'arc


In the presence of supple
goodness, some people
grow less flexible,
experiencing a woodenness
they wouldn't have thought possible.
It is as strange and paradoxical
as the combined suffering
of Pinocchio and Geppetto
if Pinocchio had turned and said,
I can't be human after all.

~ Kay Ryan
from The Best of It

into your heart

You must descend from
your head into your heart.
At present your thoughts of God
are in your head.  And God Himself is,
as it were, outside you, and 
so your prayer and other spiritual
remain exterior.  Whilst you are still
in your head,
thoughts will not easily be subdued but
will always be whirling about, like snow
in winter or
clouds of mosquitoes in summer.

~ Saint Theophan the Recluse
(an orthodox monk from 19th century Russia)

Monday, January 23, 2012


The modern pagan, the child of technology or the “mass man,” does not even enjoy the anguish of dualism or the comfort of myth. His anxieties are no longer born of eternal aspiration, though they are certainly rooted in a consciousness of death. “Mass man” is something more than fallen. He lives not only below the level of grace, but below the level of nature—below his own humanity. No longer in contact with the created world or with himself, out of touch with the reality of nature, he lives in the world of collective obsessions, the world of systems and fictions with which modern man has surrounded himself. In such a world, man’s life is no longer even a seasonal cycle. It’s a linear flight into nothingness, a flight from reality and from God, without purpose and without objective, except to keep moving, to keep from having to face reality….

~ Thomas Merton
from Seasons of Celebration
art by picasso

the beauty

~ John O'Donohue

as we climb higher

As we climb higher, we say this.
It is not soul or mind, nor does it possess
imagination, conviction, speech or understanding.

It does not live nor is it life.  It is not a 
substance, nor is it eternity or time.

It is not wisdom.
It is neither one nor oneness, divinity nor goodness.

It falls neither within the predicate of nonbeing nor being.

It is beyond assertion and denial.  We make assertions and
denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond
every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things,
and by virtue of its pre-eminently simple and absolute nature,
free of every limitation,
beyond every limitation;
it is also beyond every denial.

~ Pseudo-Dionysius
art from Sistine Chapel images